Allowing Yourself to Grieve

Thanks for joining us for part three of Living in Uncertain Times. So far, we’ve talked about dealing with uncertainty and the importance of connection, and now we’ll talk about everyone’s favorite topic, grieving. Something most of us avoid.

When the pandemic arrived in Wisconsin, I thought it’d be six weeks to three months of quarantining. I can do that, I thought; it will be hard, but doable. Now, we have no idea what return to “normal” will look like—likely not exactly the way it was.

A lot of us have rolled up our sleeves to move forward. We’ve made the best of the situation and kept going like we’ve had to. But while doing so, we can’t escape the reality that there’s been a lot of loss. At the time of this writing, there have been almost 220,000 deaths in the United States among almost 8 million confirmed COVID-19 cases. If the 2003 SARS pandemic is any indication, the health of some will be compromised for the rest of their lives. These are horrible, tangible losses, and my heart goes out to everyone that’s been affected.

Truly, no one has been immune from loss, which extends beyond being confirmed positive with COVID-19. We’ve lost our sense of security, way of life, and independence. Some have also lost their livelihoods and income, and others have had to postpone or cancel plans, such as weddings, graduation ceremonies, and vacations. So many losses without much talk about the importance of grieving them. Why should we grieve? I thought we were supposed to just keep going? We have to figure out the way through and make changes that allow our lives to still be filled with joy. Our lives matter every single day; we can’t sit in a holding pattern forever. We must allow ourselves to grieve, feel the pain, and start healing so we don’t forever carry the weight.

We must first acknowledge loss in order to grieve and then fully move on. It’s not an American thing to do—our society teaches us to push through pain and not feel it. To keep going, stay busy, remain productive, and not to whine. The result of not grieving can be feeling stuck in anger, numbness, and despair without being able to identify the source. When we fail to deal with loss, we prevent ourselves from being completely present in our lives, which can affect our relationships and not allow us to fully feel joy. The pain will resurface, and when it does, it will be even more difficult to work through it.

Psychologist Dr. Tian Dayton from HuffPost says, “When loss is not accompanied with some sort of process that allows us to both feel and express our feelings of despair, vulnerability, disorientation, and perhaps even relief, those emotions can go underground. But out of sight is not out of mind; they will come back to haunt us if we do not somehow find a way to accommodate and accept the loss that has taken place.”

Grieving loss is important to mental well-being, and can take a long time to work through. During the process, stay engaged in life and carve out time for reflection, feeling pain, and thinking about what you’ve lost. If you aren’t sure how to start the healing process, professionals like William Frey, a researcher at the Ramsey Medical Center in Minneapolis, encourage us to allow ourselves to cry, which can release hormones that help relieve stress. They also remind us to not judge ourselves while we grieve because everyone grieves differently; there is no one right way. Allow yourself to feel however you feel and ask for help. This may mean reaching out to a friend or family member to talk, asking for help with errands or tasks you aren’t up to doing, and reaching out to a therapist or counselor. Staying connected and taking care of yourself are important.

Self-care shouldn’t be placed on the back burner. We’re allowed to distract from grief by doing things that are fun. We’re allowed to experience joy, especially while grieving. Psychology Today professionals warn that the famous five stages of grief—denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance—are not the process for everyone. We shouldn’t expect to experience the stages in any specific order, or even at all.

Whatever comes up for you, don’t fight it. Allow it in. Let it be there with you and spend time with it. It may not sound like fun and, for the most part, it isn’t, but you will start to feel things loosen a bit and gain perspective on the loss you never saw coming. You’ll learn about yourself from the process and about what’s important and a lot of other things around you that you may have missed. Pull up a chair for your pain and welcome it into your life. It’s there anyway, so you may as well be friendly.

Sandy Eichel is a happy ex-should-er.

Photograph provided by Sandy Eichel

Check out our video podcast series with Sandy, Living in Uncertain Times, at madisonessentials.com .