Seven years ago I experienced the greatest grief of my life when I lost my sister to cancer. In the months and years that followed her death, I learned a lot about grief, as I stumbled my way through it.
Because I am a pastor and had some training in grief counselling, I thought I knew a lot about grief already, but grieving surprised me. I was surprised at how sneaky grief is. I was surprised at how inconsistent it is. I was surprised at how all-pervasive grief feels.
Seven years later, my grief is still surprising me. The big surprise in this season has been how grieving would help me process my life during covid. Because even though we may not have thought about it that way, we are all grieving right right now.
Remember, grief is the feeling we feel after any loss. And because of covid, we are all grieving many things. We are grieving the loss of connections, jobs, finances, friendships, health, security, our lives as they once were. We are grieving everything from the loss of our favourite activities to not being able to travel to not being able to see people smile in the grocery store. Let me assure you that the feelings you feel right now are not unwarranted or out of place: they are normal. Because we’re grieving.
That is why I have found it helpful to remember the things it took me a while to learn when I grieved before. Here are a few of them:
We grieve all kinds of things
As I said, grief is the feeling we feel as we process any loss. When I lost my sister, I soon realized that I was grieving more than just her. In the weeks after her death, I grieved many things connected to that loss. I grieved the 50th anniversary party we didn’t have for my parents the summer after she died. I grieved the trips to Florida we wouldn’t take when we were old ladies together. I grieved the phone calls I couldn’t make to talk about my kids and ask her questions. Even this summer, I have grieved not being able to process this pandemic with her.
For you, the grief may come in many ways. For parents, for example, right now many of us are worried about school. But in the midst of this worry don’t discount the reality that you are GRIEVING. You are grieving what school won’t look like for you kids. You are grieving for the childhood that looks different than you imagined for your children. You are grieving the loss of things we took for granted like gym class and school fun fairs and being able to go to school with your face uncovered.
As you read this, you may be grieving any number of things – the loss of your weekly yoga class, not being able to hug your grandchildren, your favourite restaurant that shut down, not being able to sing in church. Of course I know these things aren’t on the same level as losing a loved one – I am not saying that – but I am naming that that heaviness you feel is its own form of grief and the waves of emotions that come because of these things are normal. Because we’re grieving.
Grief is draining
What I didn’t anticipate with grieving was how freakin’ tired I was all the time. I would work half a day and find I needed a nap over lunch. I would visit a friend and then crash as soon as I got home. I felt overwhelmed by simple tasks and requests of others.
Perhaps you are wondering why everything just feels like a little extra work in this season. It is because you are grieving. Please, cut yourself some grief slack. Cut others slack. Sometimes we just can’t handle as much – and that’s okay. Because we’re grieving.
There is no logic to the good days and bad days
I often say to people that when I started grieving, I thought grief would work like a slow upward curve….starting really low, and each day going up a little bit until I felt “better.” But it’s not like that. It’s a roller coaster. I remember about a week after my sister died saying out loud to my husband “I feel normal today. Do you think I’m over it already?”
I was just having a bit of a surge on the roller coaster, but that grief ride dipped very low again, and again, and again. And I never knew when a dip would come.
We may feel like we should be “doing better” because life is much more open now than back in the spring, but the truth is with grief it can still hit us out of nowhere and we can plunge back into the heaviness. The triggers can be anything – a news story, seeing a mask, or thinking about Christmas. It hits us. It overwhelms us. You are going to still have what our house calls “covid-crap-ular” days, and there may be no logic whatsoever to when they come. And that’s normal. Because we’re grieving.
The feelings of grief last long after you should be “over it”
The early days of grieving are full of support, but grief lasts a long time. I have heard many grieving people share that the worst of their grief hit several months later, when many people think they have “moved on” or they are “over it.”
We may think that we should be over our covid grief by now, but it doesn’t work like that. Many of us are just beginning to process all the losses we have experienced, and that’s okay. Because we’re grieving.
We need to talk about it
I figured I had grief in the bag. I knew how things worked because I had studied it. But when I went through the darkest season of grief, I was frustrated at how poorly I was able to process my feelings, annoyed that I couldn’t always make sense of my own emotions.
I needed to talk to someone.
Eventually I found a good grief counsellor. The first time I went, I talked for two hours. She gently said “I’m going to schedule you for an hour and half next time….” Bless.
I learned that it is normal and okay to need a safe spot to process what you’re feeling, and that lesson is important for me right now.
We all need our covid-counsellors. They don’t have to be professional therapists. They can be your friend. Your colleague. Your partner. Your pastor.
The important thing is that you remember – it’s okay to need to talk about this stuff. Why? Because we’re grieving.
As I write this, I am not without hope. I do think that we will find a new normal as the days go on, just as I learned to do seven years ago. But I also remember that my new normal came on the other side of grief. Grieving is important for moving forward. It is the process of healing. And it is a process we all need right now.
Make space for your covid-grief. Acknowledge your very real and important feelings. Talk to someone. Take some rest. Remind yourself that these things are needed and they are okay – because we are not selfish, difficult, unreasonable, or weird. We are doing what we need to: Because we’re grieving.
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