Collective Grief During a Global Pandemic

Grief, often acknowledged as the response to some type of loss, has recently chosen to show up on the world’s doorstep. Whether it be the loss of future celebrations or trips, the loss of physical contact with those we love, the loss of a job, the loss of personal freedom, or the loss of normalcy- ultimately everyone is experiencing some type of grief right now. 

Scott Berinato, senior editor at Harvard Business Review, recently posted an article titled That Discomfort You’re Feeling is Grief where he interviewed David Kessler, one of the world’s experts on grief and co-author with Elizabeth Kübler-Ross of On Grief and Grieving: Finding the Meaning of Grief through the Five Stages of Loss

During this interview, Kessler acknowledged a collective grief that is occurring in the world today due to the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic.

He also discusses the anticipatory grief that happens when something bad is happening that we cannot see and the loss that occurs to our general sense of safety. 

Kessler discusses the importance of labeling our feelings as grief and processing through the different stages of grief we are feeling. He also explains that the stages of grief are not linear and can occur in a random order. 

Kessler uses the following statements as a brief glimpse into understanding the five stages:

  • There’s denial, which we experience a lot of 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.

Kessler also has recently added a sixth stage to the process of grief: Meaning. Finding meaning during this time of uncertainty can help us to feel some sense of control when everything around us feels out of control.

Meaning may look like: developing deeper relationships with those in our home, getting connected to nature again, enjoying the simplicities of life like long walks, rediscovering old or new interests/hobbies such as pulling out an old instrument, or simply exploring our values and what it looks like to prioritize those values amidst a normally busy schedule. 

Overall, we have been provided the opportunity to embrace a slower pace of life and walk through the grieving process together with compassion and grace. So let’s take a moment to ask ourselves: “What would it look like to lean into the discomfort of grief in this way today?” 

Betty Gebhardt

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