What Is This?

I HAVEN’T SLEPT WELL LATELY.

I haven’t slept well lately. I wake up worrying about my husband, our children, their children, our pets, my health, my friends — especially those who are single or have health issues, healthcare workers, people who stock our grocery stores and check us out, immigrant families in detention centers, what our president might do next or not do, the world…

My life has changed dramatically in just a few weeks. No visits with kids and grandkids, no workouts in the gym, no church, no French class, no dance class, no boxing class, no choir, no in-person meetings, no social life.

I go about my days and try to keep an “attitude of gratitude.” After all, I’m one of the lucky ones. I can talk on the phone and FaceTime. I can work in the garden and take walks. I can read and watch TV. We can go camping with our trailer and change environments. But the lack of connectedness to other people is palpable.

I feel overwhelmed and powerless. My life as I know it is gone, at least for the present. An article I read in the Harvard Business Review pinpointed what I’m feeling: grief. And as the author, Scott Berinato, says, “If we can name it, perhaps we can manage it.”

His piece, “That Discomfort You’re Feeling Is Grief,” March 23, 2020, HBR, centers on an interview with David Kessler, who co-wrote with Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, On Grief and Grieving: Finding the Meaning of Grief through the Five Stages of Loss

Kessler says, “We’re feeling a number of different griefs. We feel the world has changed, and it has. We know this is temporary, but it doesn’t feel that way, and we realize things will be different. Just as going to the airport is forever different from how it was before 9/11, things will change and this is the point at which they changed. The loss of normalcy; the fear of economic toll; the loss of connection. This is hitting us and we’re grieving. Collectively. We are not used to this kind of collective grief in the air.”

“We’re also feeling anticipatory grief. Anticipatory grief is that feeling we get about what the future holds when we’re uncertain. Usually it centers on death. We feel it when someone gets a dire diagnosis or when we have the normal thought that we’ll lose a parent someday. Anticipatory grief is also more broadly imagined futures. There is a storm coming. There’s something bad out there. With a virus, this kind of grief is so confusing for people. Our primitive mind knows something bad is happening, but you can’t see it. This breaks our sense of safety. We’re feeling that loss of safety. I don’t think we’ve collectively lost our sense of general safety like this. Individually or as smaller groups, people have felt this. But all together, this is new. We are grieving on a micro and a macro level.”

I feel better having a label for my feelings. It allows me to breathe, to move around in my world, to appreciate the things I do have, to find new ways of living and being, and to remember that the most important things are the people we love and care about.

I can reach out to my family and friends – through phone calls, text messages, emails, FaceTime, Zoom, cards and letters, walks while we talk, birthday cakes dropped off at front doors, and prayer. I am not powerless to let them know I’m thinking about them, and I can do something each day to stay connected.

And in time, life will be “normal” again, even if it’s different.

8 thoughts on “What Is This?

  1. Great reflection, Pauline. Maybe it’s “Good Grief,” as Peppermint Patty used to say to Charlie Brown. Good in that we do have people & routines and can care for the loss of intimacy and proximity with those matters. Maybe that’s, as you say, what motivates us to reach out in new ways and to give thanks. Thank you for your great meditation and words of encouragement! Keep up the good work!

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  2. I feel the grief. I try to stay in the moment (my children help me) and appreciate all the good in my life. I love your line that “life will be ‘normal’ again, even if it’s different.” There is HOPE.

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  3. I feel the grief. I try to stay in the moment (my children help me) and appreciate all the good. I love your line that “life will be ‘normal’ again, even if it’s different.” There is HOPE.

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  4. “Sicknes, rightly received,” he wrote,”gives us the opportunity to withdraw from the world of “things” and into ourselves.” He went on to say that he didn’t know of anyone who had arrived at a certain point of deeper and compassionate understanding, or words to that effect, without having undergone some prolonged period of physical sickness.

    He then recounted his own sicknesses as a child and out of it, how he had nonetheless grown into a hearty man. “Not a Charles Atlas, but I function.”

    There was more – the substance of which I recall but can’t adquately paraphrase. It had to do with using such times as opportunity for spiritual retreat and growth.

    He finished with the admonition, “But one must never let his spirit get sick. Keep getting up – always with an indomitable spirit, and I promise you, your body will take its cue from your spirit and grow much stronger.”

    That was in a letter to me from your father, of course, a later sequil to his weekly letters, some written in longhand for several pages, that sustained me in his absence through my growing-up years. Looking back I think those letters helped sustain him as well. The wellspring of love from which they were written was deep and spilled into mine at the same level.

    At the time I was in my late teens or barely twenty and dealing with a medical condition that had knocked me off my pins. Since then and through the medical wars that followed I have grown to welcome that side of them: a time for spiritual retreat and inner growth. I greeted this pandemic shutdown in the same way, much of it thinking of Paul and his legacy within me.

    Through your physical struggles you have, in your own way, done the same thing: You have risen up with an indomitable spirit and brought life and joy to those around you. In this “down time,” I’m sure, you’ve seen spiritual growth as well. The piece (y)our father imparted to me in written form is to consciously lean into it – further, deeper, and let the Holy Spirit find you there – you know, by faith, that He will.

    – Chuck

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    1. Chuck — I do believe you got more personal correspondence from my dad than anyone besides his mother. His letters to you are a testament to his deep regard for you. Thank you for the kind words and for the encouragement. Onward and upward!

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