The COVID-19 Grief Hangover
There was a moment, a few lifetimes ago in 2018 when I was so excited to see the film Marvel’s Avengers Infinity War. I was there on opening weekend for what would be a colossal bummer of a movie, excited to witness the heroes of the Marvel universe perform epic feats of civil service. Sadly, the Avengers were thwarted by the galactic Keto-Grimace Thanos. With a snap of his fingers, Thanos obliterated much of the population of earth. Thanatos is Greek for death, so maybe if I’d paid attention in either seminary or comic book reading school, I might have seen that coming. My reaction was fairly nonplussed. Certainly, nothing could just wipe out hundreds of thousands of Americans? This was pure movie magic and I didn’t give it another thought until recently. COVID-19 has been the society destroyer that even Marvel doesn’t have an answer for and the reality is that the mourning, grief, and rebuilding of our lives has only begun.
I am a grief support worker and as such, the support I offer comes from listening to others and walking beside them on their journey of loss and fashioning the next chapter of their lives. Recently I’ve been taking a lot of calls from people in the throes of the kind of malaise they don’t have a name for. A form of COVID-related grief that rears its ugly head even when they haven’t had loved ones who died from the infection. Tired grief borne of a year of bad news, social distancing, and lack of the “old” normal. I asked some colleagues about this phenomenon recently, mislabeling it in conversation as Disenfranchised Grief. The concept of disenfranchisement refers to grief over a societal taboo. My fellow soul care aides pointed out that this is something different and new unto itself. In other words, it can only be called COVID-19 Grief. The raw, worn-out emotion of grieving a societal situation that has gone on way too long and will leave us all changed. Or, more succinctly, we all got “Thanos-ed” by COVID. The questions now relate to what to do and where to go to feel better. Here are my brief suggestions (non-answers) as a bereavement care worker:
- Acknowledge That You’re Hurting and then Talk About It. As sick to pieces as everyone is of Zoom/Meet-Up/Teams/WebEx as a means of talking about our feelings, find someone or a group of someones who supports and loves you and will listen when you’re hurting over the frustration and sadness. Look to a local grief counselor, even with a hospital or hospice group. By now, they’re attuned to the “new” grief and willing to help.
- Lament. The age-old wisdom of the lament is a worthwhile way of communicating your sadness, anger, and feelings of being lost to God. The Bible’s book of Job is the lament of a man who lost everything and cried out in his profound sadness to God as he sat in the dirt with his friends. Write out your cry to God for healing and for change. Revisit it and one day in the near future write out your joy when sadness has washed over you and washed away.
- Give Yourself the Grace You Deserve. You were not meant to control the universe. You have nothing to feel guilty about. All you can do is take one step, then the next. One breath followed by the next. If you need a nap take a nap. If your body can tolerate a Snickers bar, eat one slowly. Then close your eyes, thank God for the good that continues to exist in the world, and go forward.
- Build on Faith. Your faith in God is vitally important to Spiritual, emotional, and even physical health. This isn’t the faith of unrealistic expectations or belief in superheroes. It’s the faith built on knowing that God loved humanity enough to sacrifice His Son for their salvation. He grieves when we grieve.
Eventually, we’ll get back to the movies, even the cringe-inducing Thanos films, along with a host of new experiences. It’s okay during this time to admit that we’re going through a long slog of bad news and definitely okay to feel exactly how we feel about it. Reach out for help and never stop moving forward.