We are not OK, and that’s OK.
I just wanted to start off with that, because I know there are many people who are really struggling with the effects of the pandemic that we are enduring. There are some strong, pioneering, risk-taking adventurers who wonder why so many people are worried. They confidently and glibly dismiss what many of us are taking very seriously. But I think there are many more who, in quiet and contemplative moments, walk on the edge of being overcome by anxiety. It’s just true that everybody is not OK.
No matter what part of the world you live in and how your culture has handled COVID-19, we have all lost something….many things. We no longer can go anywhere we want to go. We question our own health – are we carrying a virus that hasn’t affected us yet? We are uncertain of the health of others – are they carrying a virus? We feel those losses when we put on a mask and go into a grocery store. We’ve lost the ability to smile and to receive smiles. We have lost the ability to place a hand on someone’s shoulder and talk with them about their day. We can no longer connect over a cup of coffee around a small table. We’ve lost the opportunity to walk into a hospital room with flowers and hugs, bringing cheer to those who are barely hanging on. We’ve lost the chance to say goodbye one more time at the casket of a friend and to cry with the hurting and grieving.
Grieving. That’s what we’re doing.
We are mourning the losses of things that we took for granted. They were essential pieces of the lives we built and it is been hard to try to fill those empty places in our hearts. We experience grief in all the normal ways. It occupies a place in our thinking and doesn’t turn off or fade away. We sometimes lose track of time. We have a hard time admitting that this loss has occurred. We are resentful of having to make significant changes because of these losses. We wonder if life will ever be the same again. We wonder if we will still be here when this is over. Grief can cause us to be inward focused, and ignore the truth that everyone around us is going through grief as well.
In the grief support group circles of which I’ve been a part, there is an expression that everyone must do their ‘grief work’. True enough, it takes some effort on our part to work through our grief. Since the coronavirus is not going away anytime soon, what are some ways we can cope with the grief that comes with the losses we’ve endured? Since I’m in this ocean with you, I am not sure I have the clarity to tell anyone else what to do. But as a survivor of other disasters which produced grief, I have a few ideas.
Don’t rush through your grief and don’t ignore it. Just pretending we are OK when we are not creates a perfect storm for further hurt and distress. I really think the first thing we need to do is to count our losses and be aware of just how significant this has been for us. If you have lost a job or a family member, that won’t be difficult. If you are struggling and haven’t clarified why, it very well could be grief over unnamed losses. Take some time to think through how this has affected you.
Focus on someone outside of yourself. There are hurting people all around. When you see those who are serving by making face masks, handing out food, or writing letters of compassion, you are seeing a person positively love others with what energy they have. What can you do, within the parameters of social distancing, to be a blessing to someone else? Use your talents and strengths as a means to lift someone else who is not feeling OK at the moment.
Seek help if things become inescapably dark. Falling over the edge of concern into anxiety is not hard to do. Even more, don’t allow yourself to seek escape from the grief through drugs, alcohol, pornography, sexual encounters, or contemplation of suicide. There are national helplines for all of these difficulties as well as local counselors who can meet with you online to help ground you for the days ahead. Never be afraid to reach out.
Put your hope in something greater than yourself. One thing is clear above all in this pandemic, we are not as strong as we thought we were. No one is invincible. For me, placing my faith in Jesus Christ has been an answer that has provided hope. Jesus is a Great Physician who has healing in his hands. He arose from the dead and promised eternal life to those who will give themselves to Him. This is not the time for self-reliance. The hope and love that come from Jesus transcends our troubled lives now and the life that comes after we pass from this life.
Embrace a thought that helps you through the hard moments. For some, the Serenity Prayer is an expression of trust that gives strength. Perhaps a brief Scripture you can commit to memory. For example, Romans 12:12 says, “Rejoice in our confident hope. Be patient in trouble, and keep on praying.” Maybe the Lord’s Prayer calls your soul to a peaceful place.
Take one day at a time. That advice has some age on it, but it persists because it is true. We can’t fix yesterday. We can’t pre-arrange tomorrow. We are living today. That is enough to handle. Jesus said, “So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today” (Matthew 6:34).
As we know about grief, there is no blog post or book that answers all our questions and makes us feel good as new. We are not OK, and that’s OK.
Thanks for reading. – John