The Circle Line

Coronavirus and Collective Grief

"Sometimes naming what you are feeling is half the battle"


By Gabrielle Lisk

Our mind craves patterns, and loves to be able to link events with other experiences so we know how to react and feel the comfort in knowing we’ve been here before. It’s extremely difficult to let go of the idea that we have a blueprint for how to cope with feelings of uncertainty. What we can learn from grief, however, is self-acceptance. Accept that nobody has the answers. Accept that you feel frustrated at the loss of normalcy. Accept your anger towards the fact that no matter how prepared you were, no matter how many rolls of toilet paper you bought, this still happened.

Sometimes naming what you are feeling is half the battle. When you are able to name the source of your anxiety, it is easier to manage because you have a clear understanding of what you’re up against. We keep hearing that we’re fighting a war against an invisible enemy. But I think what’s happening right now is scary because it’s uncertain. We want a date that we can mark on our calendars, we want something we can point to and blame, we want things to go back to normal as soon as possible without any change. Right now, we’re mourning the loss of the rational. And the only way to describe it is as grief.

When we talk about grief, it’s often in response to death. Our brains aren’t used to processing the intense emotions associated with profound loss, so we begin to cycle through our reserves. We first deny what is happening, continuing trying to live life as if nothing has changed, and get angry with ourselves when we fall short. We feel anger towards the person or thing we lost. We try to rationalize the loss, to put a date on it and make a plan for that day when it will all be over. We cycle back through everything we could’ve possibly done differently so we didn’t have to experience the loss and the subsequent feelings of pain. We beat ourselves up over not doing better.

Being in the eye of this pandemic mimics a collective grief. We can’t see outside of this, and although we rationally know that it will be temporary, right now we don’t have a solution. We’re washing our hands, we’re staying inside, we’re doing our best every day, but that’s all we can do right now. This doesn’t look like anything else we’ve experienced in our lifetimes, and we don’t have a blueprint for how to cope with it.

What we do know is that it will change things, and that it is changing the world around us in real time. The things we didn’t think of before, walking down a crowded street, getting on the subway, enjoying dinner with a group of friends, now are being seen through a different lens. Even though we are finding new ways to connect, we are mourning the loss of the little things, no matter how banal they might have seemed before all of this. Let’s just sit in this.

This is happening. Try to remember it’s only temporary.

Keep Calm and Carry On.

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