We have all been suffering from pandemic grief in one way or another. In an article “Grieving Life and Loss” by Kirsten Weir that was published by the American Psychological Association on June 1, 2020 (retrieved on January 15, 2021 from https://www.apa.org/monitor/2020/06/covid-grieving-life) she states what we all have heard over and over: “The pandemic has led to a series of losses, from financial security to the lives of loved ones.”
The COVID-19 pandemic is an epidemiological crisis, but also a psychological one. While the situation provokes anxiety, stress and sadness, it is also a time of collective sorrow, says Sherry Cormier, PhD, a psychologist retired from private practice who now focuses on grief training and mentoring. “It’s important that we start recognizing that we’re in the middle of this collective grief. We are all losing something now.”
Many people are confronting the loss of a loved one to the novel coronavirus—a challenge made even more difficult by physical distancing orders that prevent them from saying goodbye in person or gathering with others to mourn. Deaths aren’t the only losses that people are reckoning with, however. Millions of people are facing loss of employment and financial upheaval as a result of the pandemic. Yet even people who haven’t lost anything so concrete as a job or a loved one are grieving, Cormier says. “There is a communal grief as we watch our work, health-care, education and economic systems—all of these systems we depend on—destabilize,” she says.
Everyone’s pandemic grief is different. Those who are lucky enough to still be working, who live with supportive family members, who are financially able to keep a reasonable facsimile of their former life in place, feel that they shouldn’t be grieving as they are much better off than many friends and family members. Ester Leutenberg and Fran Zamore in GriefWork (2008) refer to grieving as
…A long, winding path that curves back on itself, traverses hills and valleys, and has many obstacles. It is a path that is challenging to negotiate, time-consuming to travel along and may provide opportunities for personal and spiritual growth. Grieving is a part of the human experience. A person attached to someone will mourn the loss of that relationship and miss that person’s physical presence. We understand this as a simple truth. Remembering this truth does help some people cope with the loss because they are able to be somewhat philosophical….
Added to this list are, of course, all the losses we have experienced because of the pandemic. According to the Mayo Clinic article Coronavirus grief: Coping with the loss of Routine during the Pandemic…
Efforts to prevent the spread of COVID-19 have affected people’s jobs, where people work, the way kids go to school and play, and the ability to gather in person with family and friends. These measures have also changed how people shop, worship, exercise, eat, seek entertainment, and celebrate holidays and special events. As a result, the pandemic has had a major psychological impact, causing people to lose a sense of safety, predictability, control, freedom and security. Retrieved January 15, 2021 from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/coronavirus/in-depth/coping-with-coronavirus-grief/art-20486392.
The following story and worksheet* are excerpted from The GriefWork Companion, by Fran Zamore, LLSW, IMFR & Ester R.A. Leutenberg.
How Do You Handle Adversity?
Are you a Carrot, an Egg or a Coffee Bean?
A young woman went to her mother and told her about her life and how things were so hard for her. She did not know how she was going to make it and wanted to give up. She was tired of fighting and struggling. It seemed as one problem was solved, a new one arose.
Her mother took her in the kitchen. She filled three pots with water and placed each on a high fire. Soon the pots came to a boil. In the first, she placed carrots, in the second she placed eggs, and the last she placed ground coffee beans. She let them sit and boil, without saying a word.
In about twenty minutes, she turned off the burners. She fished the carrots out and placed them in a bowl. She pulled the eggs out and placed them in a bowl. Then she ladled the coffee out and placed it in a bowl.
Turning to her daughter, she asked, “Tell me, what do you see?”
“Carrots, eggs and coffee,” she replied. Her mother brought her closer and asked her to feel the carrots. She did and noted that they were soft. The mother then asked her to take an egg and break it. After pulling off the shell, she observed the hard boiled egg. Finally, the mother asked the daughter to sip the coffee. The daughter smiled, as she tasted it and noticed its rich aroma. The daughter then asked, “What does it mean, Mother?”
She explained that each of these objects had faced the same adversity – boiling water. Each reacted differently. The carrot went in strong, hard, and unrelenting. However, after being subjected to the boiling water, it softened and became weak. The egg had been fragile. Its thin outer shell had protected its liquid interior, but after sitting in boiling water, its insides became hardened. The round coffee beans were unique, however. After they were in the boiling water, they had changed the water.
“Which are you?” she asked her daughter. “When adversity knocks on your door, how do you respond? Are you a carrot, an egg or a coffee bean?
Think of this: Which are you? Are you the carrot that seems strong, but with pain and adversity do you wilt, become soft and lose your strength? Are you the egg that starts with a malleable heart, but changes with the heat? Do you have a fluid spirit, but after a death, breakup, a financial hardship, or some other trial, have you become hardened and stiff? Does your shell look the same, but on the inside are you bitter and tough, with a stiff spirit and hardened heart?
Or are you like the coffee bean? The bean actually changed the hot water, the very circumstances that bring the pain. When the water gets hot, it releases the fragrance and the flavor. If you are like the bean, when things are at their worst you get better and change the situation around you. When the hour is the darkest and trials are their greatest, do you elevate yourself to another level? How do you handle adversity? Are you a carrot, an egg or a coffee bean?
Pandemic Grief – Limits of Control
It is important to realize the limits of what you can control. Especially during this difficult time, remember, we have control only over our own responses and reactions.
After completing the activity, journal about your thoughts.