I have been giving a lot of thought to the wash of emotions we all seem to be feeling these days. I have been contemplating this uneasiness I feel. Most of us are safe or in very good hands. A few of us have suffered real loss. We miss being together and yet many of us report feeling more together through virtual connections than ever before. Then both Connie Rockman and Pat Francek shared with me that what we are all feeling is grief. Yes, of course that is what we are feeling.
We have lost so much of our lives: our connections, our social settings, our income, our family and for a few of us the ones we love are gone as well. The worst part is we don’t know when this will end. It could be months. And then what will be left? No wonder we are feeling sad and uneasy.
As Scott Berinato, the Senior Editor of the Harvard Business Review, put it, this pandemic has all the stages of grief wrapped up into one:
“There’s denial which we say a lot early on: This virus won’t affect us. There’s anger: You’re making me stay home and taking away my activities. There’s bargaining: Okay, if I social distance for two weeks everything will be better, right? There’s sadness: I don’t know when this will end. And finally there’s acceptance. This is happening; I have to figure out how to proceed. Acceptance, as you might imagine, is where the power lies. We find control in acceptance. I can wash my hands. I can keep a safe distance. I can learn how to work virtually.” (“That Discomfort You’re Feeling Is Grief” HBR March 23, 2020)
Grief brings with it physical weariness. I was wondering why I needed a nap each afternoon and yet I have a hard time sleeping at night. Grief also brings about a deep spiritual need to be connected. It is no wonder that we are seeing hundreds of views of our services and messages. We yearn to be with one another and search for the greater meaning in the midst of this crisis.
Grief doesn’t always follow a prescribed course. We can be fine one minute, quite content to embrace our hermitage, and crying the next. Grief resets our inner compass to help us find a direction when life has uprooted us and we aren’t quite sure where we are. Grief can be a powerful teacher, albeit a harsh one.
So might I suggest we come to an agreement with the grief we are feeling? Our world has been torn from underneath us. We will come to accept that. But we do not have to accept the fear that tells us life as we know it is over. This pandemic and the grief we are feeling is remaking our world, true. But we are still in this world and we decide how we will react to the deprivations that we face.
As Viktor Frankl observed after surviving the Nazi death camps: “Everything can be taken from one but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” (Man’s Search for Meaning) We will decide how we respond to this changed life. We will choose our own way, both individually and collectively. In the coming weeks I will offer some of the lessons I am learning from this pandemic and invite you to share yours.
And then, someday, when we are beyond this crisis we will rebuild our world and our community using what we have learned. We will move through our grief to a new world.
Take good care and stay connected, Rev. John