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The Pandemic Losses: An extra layer of grief

These months of Coronavirus have been a time for remembering how life used to be. Or maybe we try not to remember. Things that we’d known to count on our whole lives – like sending our kids to school, like going to church, like picking things up at the store to make dinner – easy things now seem exotic and distant. And we don’t know when we’ll get them back. But we assume we will, eventually.

But what, I asked my friends in our Zoom call the other night, are we going to do until then without the hugs, the presence, the dinners, the ball games, the normal stuff of connection? The answer from the fertile minds of my friends: patience, and the knowledge that we’ll get them back eventually.

That’s the difference isn’t it, between this surprising and temporary kind of loss and the loss we feel for our loved ones who have died?

The temporary loss from the pandemic

This pandemic has woken us up to many insights, like the extraordinary role that good teachers play, and the comfort many of us find in a sanctuary of our choice, or the bounty we see on every trip to the grocery store. We’ve woken up to appreciate the people that secure us, comfort us, and care for us when things go wrong. And for the scientists who have spent their academic and working lives getting ready to get us through this pandemic.

We are also grateful that it’s not the Dark Ages anymore, or 1918 anymore, when news and knowledge were in short supply. We have a daily diet of information on how to protect ourselves and the whole picture of what we are up against. It is both comforting and overwhelming, but we have it.

The lasting loss of a loved one’s death

The grief for our loved ones leaves us wanting comfort too, and information about what to do to meet the challenges before us. Our answers can’t be just patience and reassurance that things will be back to normal. There will be no vaccine for the loss of a loved one.

There are answers though, in creating a daily practice of facing what needs to be faced that day. Like death certificates to send out, decisions to make: Do you cancel the subscription to his golf magazine that still comes every month delivering a gut punch to your emotions? Repaint the bedroom as your friend insists will be therapeutic? Send the thank yous you’ve been meaning to write to your best support people? Find your old piano books because playing always soothed you? You don’t have to act on all of them, who could? But one act a day reminds you that you still are in charge of your own choices and therefore, your own life.

Life will be what’s called a “new normal,” but that new life won’t be random. It will be constructed, even with the unimagined background of a pandemic, of your own actions, and built to your specifications. Just as we all gain insights from making our best choices during the pandemic, people who grieve personal losses also gain the chance to learn day to day about the new life they are building, and take back the reins of that life.

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