In the last year, we’ve all experienced a collective grief that is unprecedented in our lifetimes. The Covid-19 pandemic that swept across the globe left a trail of pain and loss in its wake. Among the losses experienced by many were deaths and illnesses of loved ones, loss of jobs, homes, security and stability, and loss of experiences, events, and time with family and friends. What sets this apart from other monumental events in our lives is that it was experienced by everyone simultaneously. Certainly, some people were hit harder by the pandemic than others, but no one escaped without loss of some kind.
In a typical world, we all experience grief at different stages in our lives. One person in a friend group may be going through a divorce, while the others are able to support this friend. One colleague may be caring for a sick parent, while the other colleagues can help pick up the slack to lighten the load. It’s not often that everyone is going through something at the same time – and it’s unprecedented, really, that the whole world is doing so.
As so many of us stayed home, missed out on the end-of-school-year traditions, attended virtual funerals, baby showers and weddings, and spent not just one, but multiple holidays away from our loved ones, we may have felt a variety of emotions. Many of us described our emotions in the last year as sadness, disappointment, fear, anger, pain, anxiety or numbness. And each of us felt our own recipe of these emotions at various points throughout the year.
But underneath all of these feelings is something we don’t often name. Grief.
Grief is the natural response to losing something of value. When we lose something valuable (either tangible or intangible), our bodies and behaviors respond naturally. We do not have to tell our bodies to feel the emotions associated with grief, just like we do not have to tell our bodies to breathe. It happens on its own.
So what does grief look like? It’s different for everyone. For some, our bodies respond to grief by becoming numb or detached from the world. Some of us respond to grief by keeping busier than usual, working around the clock to avoid feeling what’s happening in the body. Others cope with humor. For many, grief can manifest in the body as poor concentration, poor sleeping habits, a non-existent diet, or a desire to not do anything pleasurable at all.
The first step to managing grief is to acknowledge it. Responding to the emotion (sadness, numbness, anger) isn’t enough to get to the root of the problem. If you’re feeling any of these emotions as a result of the pain and loss of the last year, consider digging a little deeper. Perhaps your sadness is something a little more. Perhaps it is grief.
After you’ve acknowledged the grief, you can begin the process of mourning, which is the task of processing through the grief. For more on mourning, click here.