Grief in the time of COVID-19

The modest optimism I felt in early March about getting through the pandemic easily didn’t last for long. By late that month, it was clear we would be sheltered at home, eating at home, watching movies at home, working at home, for quite some time. And, we would be doing all of that in the company only of the person or people who already lived at home with us.

By April, I knew that getting back on the road for work was a long way off and began planning on-line events to replace in-person trainings and conferences.

By May, the thought of a summer cottage rental or spring or summer dinner party had evaporated.

By the start of June, even the possibility of returning to San Miguel next winter was slowly dissolving.

At this point, I have no sense of when I might see either of my parents again, and I worry that my mother won’t even know who we are when we can get together.

As I have passed each of these markers, my sadness has increased. Some days, even I don’t want to be around me, such is the extent of my sorrow.

Understanding grief

It feels wrong for me to be in such a state of grief. I am not only alive, but healthy. I have a lovely house with a beautiful backyard. I have work and income, a partner I both love and like, friends with whom I can visit online and, physically distanced, in person. No one I know has contracted the virus.

Do I even have the right to feel sad, given all of my privilege? I spent some time reading about grief this week and have decided that the answer is yes.

Of all the definitions of grief I read, I thought this one might be the most appropriate for our present circumstances: “the conflicting feelings caused by the end or change in a familiar pattern of behaviour.”

Creating hierarchies

Almost everything I read cautioned against creating hierarchies that assign socially acceptable levels of grief for different kinds of loss, as though grief and loss were a competition in which only some are found worthy.

As therapist Lori Gottlieb writes:

“there’s no hierarchy of grief. . .  Right now, in addition to the tragic losses of life and health and jobs are the losses experienced by people of all ages: missed graduations and proms, canceled sports seasons and performances, postponed weddings and vacations, separation from family and friends when we need them most. We have also lost the predictability that we take for granted in daily life . . .”

Gottlieb also talks about something called ambiguous loss, where the loss is not as concrete or identifiable as traditional losses such as death: a parent’s descent into dementia vs their physical death or a miscarriage vs the death of a child already born, for example. There is, she writes, a murkiness to such losses that makes grieving more difficult, especially because others often take a “buck up, it could have been worse” attitude.

I suspect many of us are dealing with grief over ambiguous loss. We have lost, even if temporarily, much of what has given our lives focus and meaning, and it is hard to know what to do about those losses, especially for those of us who are otherwise very privileged.

Owning our own grief

I felt better after reading different perspectives on sorrow, loss and grief; by which I mean I felt better about being sad.

It is permissible, my reading helped me understand, to grieve the constant presence of uncertainty about what lies ahead as well as the loss (hopefully temporary) of rituals and activities that are important to us, of the familiar.

A crowded table, with cocktails

The absence of having other people around me is perhaps what I grieve the most. The other night, my partner and I had front row seats (our couch) for a Brandi Carlile concert. She ended with a song that felt like it had been written for me:

“I want a house with a crowded table/And a place by the fire for everyone/Let us take on the world while we’re young and able/And bring us back together when the day is done.

“The door is always open/Your picture’s on my wall/Everyone’s a little broken/And everyone belongs/Yeah, everyone belongs

Although for tonight, and likely many nights to come, our table will be decidedly uncrowded, that’s no excuse not to have a cocktail. Since summer weather is upon us, a margarita seems appropriate. This recipe, courtesy of Portland, Oregon, award-winning bartender Jeffrey Morgenthaler, will make a gallon of margaritas; perfect now that most parts of Ontario allow us to gather in groups of up to 10 people:

Mix together well: 6 cups tequila, 2 1/2 cups triple sec, 2 1/2 cups lime juice, 2 1/2 cups lemon juice and 2 cups simple syrup. Blend with or serve over ice.

I will enjoy my margarita in my backyard for now, while I imagine the possibility of sipping one in San Miguel next winter.

Salud, mis amigas y amigos!

2 thoughts on “Grief in the time of COVID-19

  1. Yeah, any novelty of all of this is totally gone (although the idea of a Brandi Carlisle concert from my couch still sounds not bad.) Since you are interested in reading about grief, thought I’d share this article I found helpful on anticipatory grief. To quote: “We tell ourselves things like, I feel sad, but I shouldn’t feel that; other people have it worse. We can — we should — stop at the first feeling. I feel sad. Let me go for five minutes to feel sad. Your work is to feel your sadness and fear and anger whether or not someone else is feeling something. Fighting it doesn’t help because your body is producing the feeling. If we allow the feelings to happen, they’ll happen in an orderly way, and it empowers us.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *