Last week we differentiated grief (our internal thoughts and feelings in experiencing loss) from mourning (our external expression of the thoughts and feelings experienced in grief). Our culture tends to conflate the two and often mistakenly uses the terms interchangeably. The first is rather automatic, the second only somewhat so. While mourning is a need, it is also largely a choice. Grief done well requires that mourning be done well, science and art.
The losses Covid-19 has levied against you and your loved ones are undoubtedly myriad—e.g., health?, job?, mobility?, plans?, security?, relationships?, so forth and so on. Ironically, your losses, my losses, all losses exacted by Covid-19 are both unique, and, yet, it’s also likely many are shared by others. This is where another important point from last week about a perfect storm of factors creating a very difficult communication environment comes in right now:
All the above is a summary review of last week’s post. When we grieve we often repeat what’s most important to us, it’s our need to not merely say the thing, but to actually be heard.
So, I am repeating what is above from last week on purpose for two reasons. Because, as indicated, when we grieve we often don’t feel well heard. And, because, we are all in a (common grief) context in which most everyone is having difficulty hearing each other. The unique aspects of our loss and grief are more easily heard when shared with others. However, the many griefs that we’re all sharing in common create an environment in which it is difficult to feel well heard.
—Full disclosure: most everything I know about thanatology [death and loss] I learned from Dr. Alan Wolfelt and his Center for Loss and Life Transition in Ft. Collins, Colorado [the linked site has excellent resources]. Below, I will link you directly to some of Dr. Wolfelt’s writings that I feel will be especially helpful.
Reconciliation needs that arise from our grief…
Grief experiences are unique to each individual and each loss. However, there are some common characteristics of good grief, or, grief done well. This is just to get you started and so I do encourage you to go read Dr. Wolfelt’s more complete unpacking of these six reconciliation needs of mourning:
- Acknowledge the reality of the death (or loss) ~ Elisabeth Kübler-Ross has clearly identified that a frequent early dimension of profound loss/grief is an initial denial of the loss. Our death-denying culture does not help us with this. Grief and accepting the loss it attends may initially come in waves allowing us to ‘dose’ on the loss a bit at a time.
Embrace the pain of the loss ~ Pastor Rick Warren often says “You’ve got to feel it to heal it.” As I said above, often the feelings are so large that we have to dose ourselves on really feeling them a little bit at a time. We may need to find/create spaces of distraction to rest. Still, it is important to carefully move toward and through our pain rather than allowing ourselves to discount repress and avoid it.
Remember the person who died (or the lost reality) ~ The relationship with the person (or previous reality) is now one of memory. Recalling and rehearsing the intimate details of the lost person (or reality) provides the mourner an important bridge and transition to life going forward. Caring for our links with our lost loved ones becomes an important part of ‘tending’ the relationship in the new reality.
Develop a new self-identity ~ We do not parachute into life as complete persons. We are made of all the relationships that constitute our holistic personal identity. We are constituted by each other and when we lose someone to death our identity is unwittingly altered. Our new identity seeks ways to relate to the person who is still a part of our ‘self’ but who is now absent.
Search for meaning ~ When pieces of our reality (people or important things) permanently go missing it challenges the meaning system that we previously engaged to sustain us prior to the loss. Introspection and reflection form crucial dimensions of mourning. Testing our old ideas and trying new ones on for size are both key reconciliation needs of mourning and the grief process.
Receive ongoing support from others ~ It is important to mourn for as long as is necessary. Back in the day, the bereaved would wear only black for an extended period of time (a year, two, maybe more). This was an on-going reminder to their friends and neighbors that significant loss had been experienced and that they were still very tender as a result. So, please find loving others who will listen well and who do not remind you that you are repeating yourself when you frequently rehearse your deepest pain-stories of grief and loss.
Article: Six reconciliation needs of mourning
The fifth reconciliation need may be the most crucial one for us in the context of our many many Covid-19 losses. A search for meaning is the dimension of our grief that I feel may be most important to humanity right now if we are to find ways to rise above our many existential threats—e.g., climate collapse, economic inequality, human migration, pandemics, etc. The many forms of extreme injustice inherent in our systems have been in full view because of the pandemic—cf. Covid-19 Apocalypse? and Easter Apocalypse.
My hope, and my sense of things, both align on the aspiration that people will make good use of this time that’s been taken-from/given-to so many of us. If it’s true that for many people Covid-19 has served as an apocalyptic and revealed the many injustices we have allowed to define life as we know it, then my deepest hope is that we will somehow be empowered to see this unique time as a Jubilee-like opportunity to grow as human beings and change our world for G-d’s sake.
I know I didn’t say anything about the dreadful isolation aspect of Covid-19 and it’s significant impacts on dying and on grief. The situation is heartbreaking. I really don’t know what to say. Perhaps I’ll try something on it next week. No promises.
Helpful Articles by Dr. Alan Wolfelt:
[this post approx. 1,100 words (5 mins)]
I never know what I’ve said till I hear the response. What did you hear me say?
Note: I know, trying to introduce a big-picture idea like Spiral Dynamics (a complex developmental anthropology) in this format is ambitious. So, I’m using a serial-approach. Blog introduction (June 30, 2018). First in series (July 1, 2018).