Are you still struggling? Me too.
So much loss and pain and fear within myself and among humanity. I’d been trying to wrap my brain around what I could say about it but it all seemed like more blah, blah, blah, just like the blah, blah, blah that fills the airwaves and my inbox every day.
Then my son Matt sent me a link to a podcast he listens to regularly: The Art of Manliness. In this particular episode, the host, Brett McKay, interviewed David Kessler, a grief expert and collaborator of Elizabeth Kubler-Ross–creator of the five stages of grief.
You may be familiar with the stages, which ebb and flow, not in any sequential or linear order: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance.
In this interview, Kessler said what we’re experiencing during this pandemic is grief. All of us, except those rare individuals (if they exist) who are somehow immune physically, socially, and emotionally to what’s happening to our world, are experiencing grief.
We’re experiencing pandemic grief.
It certainly feels that way to me.
Kessler goes on to assert that we’re the first generation to have “feelings on feelings.” In other words, “I feel X about this situation. And I feel Y about my X.”
No wonder this is so difficult!
Kessler doesn’t name the second level of feelings, but in many cases, as it is for me, that feeling is guilt: since I have it so much better than others, I feel guilty about and un-entitled to my negative emotions.
I believe it’s a form of survivor guilt. I recognize it from Matt’s rumble with a brain tumor when he was eleven, and it persists for me today. He was, and is, so much better off than many, many other brain tumor survivors. How can I possibly grieve for what was lost when I have so much to celebrate? Deep in the thicket of bringing my memoir into existence, I fight that war often.
And I find myself fighting with my first and second-generation feelings about COVID-19:
- I lost my disability income last September and my appeal was recently was denied. I’m not able to produce any sustainable earnings. But how can I feel sad when my husband is still employed and we’ll never lack for food and shelter?
- I’m afraid of getting infected, but I rarely have to leave my house. How can I worry when so many others put their lives on the line every day?
- I feel hopeless about the future of the book industry, and worried that I’ll never get an agent for my memoir. But how shallow can I be to even think about a mere book when people are dying?
- I’m distraught over my good friend who is extremely ill with COVID-19. But how can my feelings even compare to what his family is going through?
You get my drift.
Kessler’s advice is to “Stay in your first generation feelings,” allow yourself to feel without judgment. If you do this, he says, the feelings will pass through you in a few minutes.
I’m not sure that “passing through” happens so easily, but I’m going to try that this week.
I’m going to feel whatever I feel. I’m going to sit with all of my feelings and acknowledge them. I’m going to accept them whether they pass through me or not, and my goal will be to go easy on myself: self-acceptance is key.
I hope naming this collective expereince as grief helps you to go easy on yourself. I hope you can sit with your feelings today, accepting them for what they are. I hope you can grieve in whatever way you need to. And I hope that gives you solace.
Above all, I hope you are safe and well. If not, know that I grieve for you, as does the world.
There was much more in the interview that I’d like to share (including a sixth stage Kessler added) but, because there’s so much we all have to process every day, because of all the blah, blah, blah, I’ll save those thoughts for another week.
What about you? Does this pandemic experience feel like grief?