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How to deal with our pandemic grief

The pandemic has been difficult, to say the least, and even with reopenings and a sense of normalcy, there is still a fog that hasn’t lifted. These moments can be quite disorienting and discouraging as we try to recognize the reality of our lives without slipping out of hope’s grasp. 

I think a major contribution to this fog is that the grief of the last year goes unrecognized or even minimized. Sometimes this occurs when we compare our grief to another’s or ignore it because it feels too overwhelming to face while still trying to navigate the current life season.

Grief is capable of shocking subtleties. And the reality is that we are actually trapped in grief if we can’t recognize what is worth lamenting. We get stuck when we can’t make sense of what has happened, why, or how it affects and changes our lives.

Grief in our current climate

I recently counseled a couple who worked overseas but had to return to the states for purposes related to COVID-19 restrictions, the death of their unborn child, and the repercussions that a medical threat posed to the wife. Under those circumstances, the marital relationship was quite strained, and it was easy for previous annoyances that had been covered up for years within the marriage to be pointed out. The sudden return to the states also meant a lack of closure with friends and co-workers.

That is a lot to grieve and to begin unpacking and processing. Unfortunately, grief was not a priority to the couple. Instead, one spouse focused on the marital frustrations of family interactions, while the other spouse focused on appeasing the other. Both tried moving around the “annoyances” of grief so they could look into returning to their work. This is avoidance, and it is an unhealthy attempt to deal with reality.

Symptoms of grief

Grief is the sense of loss in one’s life, and it comes in many shapes. We may experience the loss of graduations, celebrations or family gatherings, hugs and kisses with grandkids, a job, a break up, a death, not being able to comfort or communicate with those in the hospital, and being unable to even attend funerals. Although these are all varying degrees of difficult circumstances, the impact is the same: a need to process a sensed loss (i.e., grief). We’ve all experienced losses throughout the pandemic, and many of them often go unnoticed. Our lives of normalcy and predictability have halted, and the byproduct of broken dreams and plans gets mislabeled as unimportant in comparison to the medical tragedies.

Grief can symptomize in many ways, and so can our unhealthy attempts to soothe the pain. There may be a lack of energy or an abundance of activity. We might mask pain through overt use of humor, withdrawing from close friends, or with overcommitted schedules. Perhaps there are angry outbursts that blame loved ones instead of having to deal with the painful emotions within. We may even feel isolated from others or experience guilt.

Honoring what we value through grief

It’s unfortunate that we overlook the necessity to care well for each other and ourselves in the midst of all that we negatively experience in life. Grief doesn’t go away simply by avoiding or being unwilling to admit its existence. It doesn’t even go away by acknowledging there is sorrow. We must come to terms with the new reality. It takes courage to recognize loss because nobody wants grief to be a true experience in life. But the truth is we honor what we value when we can also grieve its loss. Until we can do that, it is just a stuck emotion that is like a lodged cracker in the back of the throat.

The good news is that you’re not the only one who struggles, and it isn’t a sign that you’re going crazy. The psalms show us it’s actually quite normal to experience the human emotions given to us by God. These emotions are necessary for healthy living. You can take ownership of your grief and understand what has happened and how you have been affected. I encourage you to reach out to others whom you trust and know will care for you. As a Christian, you have a compassionate resource built into the local church community. And of course, take your grief to Jesus. He knows your sorrows and cares for you (Rom. 8:16; 1 Pet. 5:7). 

Of course, you may need to process your specific issues with a professional counselor. I have benefitted from this and from talking with good friends and my wife. My encouragement to you is to be courageous and curious enough to deal with the grief that may be stuck and overlooked after the challenges of this pandemic season.

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