What Is This?


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.