A good friend recently returned to Brisbane after 10 years living and working in New York.
As the Coronavirus escalated there, she felt increasingly alarmed and unsafe. The situation was rapidly deteriorating and in the last week of March, she decided to “come home”. Within 3 days she and her partner packed up their lives and got on a QANTAS flight into Brisbane. They cried with relief when the plane touched down on home soil.
She is so happy to be back, in a country that is handling the pandemic so well. Her family is relieved they are both healthy and home again. She follows the news of the escalation in New York and other hot spots around the globe, and whilst she feels so concerned for her friends still in the thick of it, she knows she and her partner made the right decision.
She describes to me this heavy feeling in her heart, how she feels unsettled, how she cries easily, and finds herself getting angry about small things that would not normally bother her.
It is easy to say she misses her old life. That she walked away from her job and her friends, so it is expected that she would be taking time to adapt to the changes.
But interestingly, others have expressed similar feelings to me – friends and colleagues who have not lost their jobs, or experienced ill-health, or have family members who are unwell.
What is this we are feeling?
David Kessler is an expert on grief. He worked closely with Elizabeth Kubler-Ross and together they wrote On Grief and Grieving: Finding the Meaning of Grief through the Five Stages of Loss. Recently, he added another stage to the grieving process, and has published Finding Meaning: The Sixth Stage of Grief.
What is Grief?
Kessler believes what we are feeling now in this COVID-19 world is indeed grief. Speaking with Scott Berinato for the Harvard Business Review, Kessler says we are feeling a number of griefs right now. “We feel the world has changed, and it has. We know this is temporary, but it doesn’t feel that way, and we realise things will be different.”
What is grief? Sometimes we think of grief as only being related to the death of a loved one. But as Kessler says, grief is about loss. And we are all experiencing so many losses right now. Even if you have not lost a loved one, or become ill yourself, you may have lost your job or have had your income seriously reduced, which may have resulted in a loss of the lifestyle you previously enjoyed. There is also the loss of our routines, our usual ways of being. Getting the kids off to school, heading out to work, grabbing a coffee in your favourite café, planning your weekends.
The loss of being able to meet in person with friends and family, that loss of connectedness, is a loss many of us are feeling acutely. Related to this is the loss of physical touch. We know that social distancing is essential right now, but it feels very strange not to be able to reach out and hug those we care about. There is that awkward moment upon greeting our friends and family, when we start to move in for a hug and then remember, and have to step back. And then a moment of sadness hits us, when we remember how different our world has become.
We know it won’t last forever, but we also know on some level, that life as we knew it has changed forever. This is where Kessler’s sixth stage of grief comes into play.
Finding Meaning During Covid-19
How do we make sense of this loss? What do we do with it? Well, according to the grief and loss experts, there is no bypassing it. We have to feel it and go through it. But finding meaningful moments during this challenging time may provide some comfort.
So many people I have spoken with over the past few months not only talk about the loss they are experiencing, but also the unexpected bright spots of it all. One friend said she is secretly happy that she is able to stop feeling like she has to be super busy all the time and just enjoy some down time. Another friend, a father of three, has loved working from home because he is getting to know his teenagers in a way he has never had the opportunity to before. And they are all getting along! A number of other friends are enjoying the time to bake or sew or garden or read or write or create in some way. We have been forced to slow down and return to a simpler life – and many of us are embracing it (even if we can’t embrace each other!)
Finding meaning doesn’t mean we have to be happy these changes have been foisted on us.
As Kessler said in an interview with Brene Brown, “The meaning is not in the death, it’s in us. It’s in what we do after”. We are not expected to be grateful this dreadful pandemic happened, but we can recognise meaningful moments.
It started in Italy, where people in lockdown began to come out onto their balconies each night to sing or play an instrument, in an act of connection. The practice spread throughout Europe in various forms. Every evening at 7pm in NYC, New Yorkers go out on their balconies or stand near their windows and clap and cheer and bang saucepans for two full minutes, to say thank you to the workers who are risking their lives to keep everyone else safe. It’s such a moving recognition of all the doctors, nurses and healthcare workers who are working tirelessly to care for those stricken by the virus. And it’s also about all the other essential workers – the grocery store workers, the postal workers, restaurant workers, truck drivers, sanitation workers – who are keeping everyone alive throughout the extended lockdown.
And although this ritual is moving for those being thanked, it is also doing something magical to the thankers. It is bringing people together in gratitude, it is finding a meaningful moment even in this time of huge loss.
In the UK, a staggering 750,000 people answered the government’s plea for 250,000 National Health Service volunteers. Also in the UK, Captain Tom Moore, the British centenarian war veteran captured our admiration for his fundraising efforts for the NHS, clocking up 100 laps of his garden. In Captain Tom, people found meaning and wanted to be a part of it. Their contributions totalled $56 million. Tom is to receive a knighthood.
In Australia and around the world, musicians are giving free concerts, people are looking out for elderly neighbours, and putting teddy bears in windows for scavenger hunts, families and friends are finding time to zoom or phone each other more than ever…
People want to find meaning in all this.
Have you found moments of meaning during this Coronavirus world?
And the next question, when life begins to return to some resemblance of normalcy, what will we all do to find meaning after the loss? For me, I’m hoping the world won’t return to “business as usual”.
If you feel anxious, unsettled, sad or disconnected during this challenging time, don’t hesitate to reach out. We are here to help and support you.
The Ondol Team