The Tasks of Grief During COVID-19

Easter came and went.

Author Hayley Stewart wrote online that she had set Easter as the end goal of social distancing and stay-at-home compliance. “Just get to Easter” was the mindset, with the liturgical season of Lent, a time of fasting and sacrifice to motivate her.

Then Easter came, but stay-at-home orders remained in place. For those celebrating, the exterior life was strangely out of sync with the interior life. Celebrating on the outside, however, traditions were modified, but inside still suffering the loneliness, anxiety and want that accompany the supposedly simple order to stay at home.

This is how grief works.

Photo by Mareko Tamaleaa on Unsplash

Time moves on. Life moves on. But it still hurts. The loss is still there, even as is seems to be filled or replaced by other things.

We have overcome one month of these orders, the fallout of government mandates and the fallout of the virus itself.

The first task of grief is to accept the reality of loss.

Within this task are all the well-known stages: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. One never has to say it is good, but accepting means taking it as it is. To accept the reality is to name the experienced reality. This is hard. As a fellow book club member points out, I miss the friends, the late-night discussions, the wine and the chocolate. I miss outings with my children to see those individuals in their lives who are part of the fabric of their lives.

The second task is to work through the grief and pain.

This means facing it, naming it, talking about it and finding ways to cope. Thomas Aquinas’ advice in the 13th century rings as true today as it was then. He recommended coping with sadness by granting yourself something pleasurable, crying, sharing your sorrow with a friend, contemplating the truth and lastly, bathing and sleeping. Easter chocolate, driving to meet a friend for a sidewalk chat six feet away or talking on the phone and finding meaning in what we are doing either by the protection of others or some deeper long-range meaning of growth for yourself like connecting more deeply with those whom you live, growing in trust, etc. For me, it’s the Trader Joe’s jelly beans, the gardening, sitting and reading in the sunshine.

The third task to adjust to life as it is now.

We are living with uncertainty, but not all things are uncertain. Carving out routine, hobbies, planning unique meals and activities. Having gone through a month, very likely you have already adjusted in some measure. If you had made-do, now ramp it up to grow, to thrive, not just survive. I am leaning into this experience and knowing my children better and enjoying the company of my husband. That said, I do daydream that if I lived alone I might dive into some deep study of some topic, like the life and literature of Flannery O’Connor or the concept of woman in history.

The fourth task is to maintain a connection with what was lost.

We are still in the midst of this trial, so it is difficult to say when it will lift or where we will land.

Importantly, now, I think of the words,

“Let us not grow tired of doing good, for in due time we shall reap our harvest if we do not give up” (Galatians 6:9).

And lastly, whether you live at home with a gaggle of kids, whether you are caregiving for your aged parent, whether all the ways you served others have gone by the wayside because of new guidelines, whether you run a restaurant, a church, an antique store, a music studio, a farm or bag groceries, your work is essential.

You are essential.

Our society needs you as an essential part of the layers and depths and relationships that make our lives as humans so diverse, interesting and meaningful.

And I’m looking forward to seeing you again soon on the other side of this experience. Until then!

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