Grief and the Coronavirus

“I completely lost my mind, yelling and swearing at her over the phone,

shared a client yesterday. “She told me about being out amongst people. What is wrong with me?” she continued. “I thought that my anger management strategies had helped me to leave that kind of behaviour behind.” 

This is a normal response to our topsy-turvy world today. 

The coronavirus has erased much of our reality, as we know it, overnight. This has left many of us disorientated, as we grapple with trying to gain a foothold in constantly shifting sand. We are all experiencing degrees of depression, grief and anger.  We desperately search for an anchor in stormy seas of information.  We are overwhelmed with fear of what this virus means, and concern for our loved ones. 

This disorientation is a natural response to trauma and grief. 

Once we recognize that we are collectively walking through grief, we have a new roadmap on which to plot our journey. Elizabeth Kubler Ross defines this as: denial, anger, depression, bargaining and acceptance.

Those who we see ignoring the warnings to self-isolate are in denial. 

Each day as I walk the dog, I encounter people who appear oblivious. I have often had to cross the road in order to avoid someone who seems unaware of the need for a minimum of six feet between us. At first, I was as angry as my client. I kept thinking things like, “Why are you so fucking stupid?” I also had to admit that there have been many times in the past that I have walked through the denial stage as I faced something that I didn’t want to accept. 

All of us have experienced varying degrees of anger and depression in regards to the Coronavirus pandemic.

My client’s response to her anger scared her.  She thought that anger management had helped her to progress past the point of lashing out.  I recognized that my anger stemmed from fear of catching the virus from someone who got too close. Some of us are stuck at home with children and possibly a partner who we clash with all day every day. Many people are suffering financial devastation, grandparents are in grief over an imposed distance from grandchildren, and single parents are desperate for relief from the pressure of being cooped up. The endless list of those caught in desperate situations and frustration over their predicament inevitably explodes in some form of anger. 

Again, this is normal. As adults, anger management teaches us that we are each responsible for recognizing and finding release for our anger before we unleash it upon our loved ones. This is where we unpack our survival tool kit. We rely on phone calls, Zoom calls, Facetime, etc. to stay connected with our support system. If we have not built our support system, this is a good time to reach out, and invite others to join us. Those who enjoy writing find release in journaling. For those who rely on prayer and meditation, these can also be powerful tools. We remove ourselves from the situation in order to get quiet and ask for spiritual help. 

When I realized that my anger was my response to anxiety and worry that I might become infected by someone else negligence, I started to be more careful to walk in more isolated areas. I took responsibility for my own safety rather than expecting someone else to.

Depression is anger turned inward, and is the third stage in Kubler-Ross’s model. 

We start to see that this situation is not going to be resolved any time soon. While the information varies from day to day, some estimates suggest that this could take a long time. Yikes! I might have to be locked in my house for months? No one really knows for sure. The consequences for our economic and social structures are unfathomable. It can feel unbearably heavy. We may find it hard to get off the couch or out of bed. Many people turn to addictions such as drugs, alcohol, food, online gambling and pornography. Yet, none of these things will lift the weight of depression, and will only deepen our melancholy. This adds self-disgust to our list of things to be depressed about. 

It is healthy to allow ourselves to feel the weight of sadness. 

We consider the broad implications of the virus. It is heart-breaking to think of: people losing loved ones; to know that our frontline workers are working past the point of exhaustion; that some of these people are falling victim to the virus. They are coming home to partners and children, unable to be physically close to them. They don’t know if they are carrying the virus. It is scary to think of our economic system collapsing. Once again, the best antidote is to reach out to our support team, and to deepen our spiritual connection. 

The fourth stage is bargaining. We start to negotiate with this new reality. 

When my son died fifteen years ago, I replayed the movie over and over.  I came up with many different endings; he did not die, but lived well beyond me. I even had him move to Australia in my mind. The reality of his death was just too much for my brain to handle. In the case of the Coronavirus, I have also run through many different imaginary scenarios, some better than others. None of this changes what is happening!

The final stage is acceptance. We come to peace with our new reality. At first, we may cycle through these stages. We move through denial, anger, depression and acceptance all in one day, or even in one hour. Through such strategies as anger management, reaching out and prayer and meditation, we will come to longer and longer stretches of acceptance. We don’t have to like what is going on, but we are willing to stop fighting it. We can have inner peace no matter what is going on outside of us. 

I am happy to report that, for the most part, my husband and I have settled into this state. We have even found joy in this time together. 

We live in gratitude for the small mercies of home, food, friends, family, our little dog, fresh air, sunshine and even rain. Small mercies are more precious than ever!

We have had time to really talk to each other. We discuss our wishes and hopes, our love for each other, our fears and end of life plans. We are not rushing out to do daily errands. We have more time to just be, to not have to do, do, do! We try to live one day at a time, focusing on what is in front of us. We purposefully walk in faith, knowing that this will eventually end. We will once again enjoy freedom from our self-imposed isolation. We are praying that we will have a new world order based on love and care of our fellows. The gods of money and greed will be finally laid to rest. 

Sending each and every one of you love and blessings from at least a six foot distance,

Arlene

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