Grief and Hope in the Time of Coronavirus Crisis

Listening and understanding others have brought a different perspective of relatedness recently. We are inundated with the information about the Coronavirus by the minute. This information is tragic and overwhelming. The discussions, whether in therapy sessions or on social media about the Coronavirus Pandemic, have one important theme that the world has changed in the last couple of months, and it indeed has. We hope it is temporary, but it does not feel that way.  The new way of life amid the crisis is uncanny and surreal.  The enforced social distancing, working remotely, economic recession, and travel restrictions are troubling and unnatural.  Just as going to the airport is forever different from it was before 9/11, would our lifestyle be altered for good? The loss of normalcy, the fear of economic toll, and the interrupted connection with friends and family members, and its cumulative effect has a sense of grief. Why grief? There is a sense of loss as if we are living abnormal lives. We are also feeling anticipatory grief. It is the feeling we get about what the future holds when we are uncertain, usually, it centers on death. We feel it when someone is diagnosed with a complicated or untreatable disease or when we anticipate the death of a parent or a loved one. Anticipatory grief is also akin to natural disasters, wars, migration, political asylums, neglect, and separation.

With Coronavirus, the sense of grief is confusing. Our primitive mind knows something ominous is happening, but we cannot see it because this virus does not have a visual or tactile form, unlike a natural disaster or war. This shatters our sense of safety and causes a sense of dread and grief. This sentiment is new, as we collectively have not felt this way before. We are grieving on a micro and macro level.

How to manage this grief? Understanding and acknowledging the nature and complexity of the new ways of our existence is the first necessary step. Dealing with grief is a process, and it has many stages: This process is not linear and tends to be complicated. The first stage is denial: this virus won’t affect me or my family. There is anger: You are forcing me to stay home and asking me not to socialize. There is bargaining: Fine If distance myself from others, everything would be back to normal. There is sadness: I don’t know when this will end. Finally, there is acceptance: This is happening; I need to figure out what to do? It is the acceptance where we begin to gain some control. For example, I need to wash my hands or to sanitize doorknobs. I can use a face mask and keep a safe distance. I can learn to work virtually. It is important not to ignore the unpleasant emotions that we experience as we go through the grief process. Sharing your thoughts and feelings with others is an important part of the grieving process. Under stressful situations, our thoughts tend to become extreme and worst outcomes are anticipated: We will never get back to living normally. It is important to keep a balanced viewpoint and to identify irrational thought patterns. The goal is to find a balance in your thought process.

One of the characteristics of anticipatory grief is the fatalistic futuristic thinking pattern. The relief is living in the present. Meditation, Yoga, and Mindfulness can be beneficial to living in now. It is important to recognize that controlling the COVID-19 requires a joint effort, while individuals are doing their part, the sate, and the federal government, medical and para-medical staff, and other agencies are working tirelessly to combat the virus. It is a temporary state. The precautions we are taking will help us to avoid getting infected with the virus. We will survive this pandemic as we have survived the 1918 flu pandemic. This is a time to overprotect but not overreact.

Mubasher Naseer