The Pandemic and Grief

I wanted to draw people’s attention to a very helpful article that appeared in the Harvard Business Review about a predominant feeling that people are experiencing these days as we go through this crisis.  Grief.  While all of us have our coping strategies and skills to deal with what is happening, we are all affected.  Even if the pandemic is kept more in the background of someone’s attention, it is there exerting stress, anxiety, and fear.

The author of this article interviews David Kessler, who along with Elizabeth Kubler-Ross developed the idea of the stages of grief.  He believes that we are all grieving now the loss of the world that we have known.  And while the pandemic is temporary and will pass, we know that the way we understood and experienced the world has changed. He talks about anticipatory grief, which I am hearing a great deal of in my patients (and in myself) as anxiety about the uncertainty of the future.

Mr. Kessler talks about ways of managing during this time, particularly emphasizing meditation and efforts to remain in the present.  And while there is value in positive thought, which he advocates, I want to stress the value in allowing the grieving process (which I’m sure Mr. Kessler would agree with but which is not so highlighted in the interview).  It is important to feel these feelings. And while there is a sense that such feelings can be overwhelming, people’s experience tends to be that feelings can be felt and in fact then be motivators.  Perhaps we are reaching out more, as the article notes, having longer conversations, video time, with loved ones and friends because we feel the grief and are thus moved to connect to those we love.

If I may borrow from the model of grief, I would assert that the first stage toward change, therapeutic change, is understanding.  It is helpful for us to be able to name what we are feeling, which to a large extent now is grief.  Although understanding is not in itself enough, it is an important beginning towards the ultimate goal of acceptance.  Acceptance is not understood as some passive surrender, but something paradoxical and integral to making real changes.  We have to first accept that which we want to change in order to then effect change

I hope all are well and remain well.

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