Grief can show up when we don’t expect it and for reasons that might not ‘fit’ our traditional idea of grief. Many of us may believe that we should only experience grief when someone we care about dies. However, there are many losses that can also trigger grief. Based on many conversations over the past few months and living in a world with COVID, it seems many of us are experiencing grief both individually and collectively. Never before has the entire world felt the same acute threat as it has over the past few months and sadly we expect it will continue for some time.
The grief experience is often a combination of many emotions and thoughts such as fear, sadness, anxiety, anger, guilt, rejection and depression. Experiencing so many thoughts and emotions can make it difficult to notice or understand exactly what we are feeling and thinking and we often don’t think of it as grief, we may just feel irritable or restless or have difficulty focusing on anything. So when we think of the losses connected with COVID and the threat and uncertainty to our health and that of our family and friends, our finances and our lifestyle, it is understandable that grief is showing up.
Grief shows up in the darnedest places means that no matter what it is, even if you think it seems trivial, if it is important to you, grief may show up. Maybe it is that once-in-a-lifetime trip to Europe, your university graduation, visiting your parents in another province or country after the birth of your first child, celebrating your retirement or simply hugging your adult children who live far away. You may even be grieving alone time and at the same time feel guilty for feeling this way. Or the opposite, you may miss going into work, coffee with your colleagues or even your work space. Before COVID you may have wished for the day you could just work from home! Acknowledging your grief is important in so much as it calls for the need to practice self-compassion. Self-compassion is more critical now than ever, partly because we are experiencing so much loss all at once and for prolonged periods and we may not have the same support of family and friends that we used to, or least not in the same way…like getting a big hug. And just when we need the support of others, we may also need to provide that emotional support to others and so it is important to fill-up our own glass through self-compassion so our strength and resilience isn’t depleted.
By flexibly noticing what you are feeling and thinking, in this moment, without judgement, you are bringing your thoughts and feelings into the light, a first step in practicing self-compassion. Compassion means…_’to suffer together’ and we know it requires us to be kind and gentle . Too often when painful or distressing feelings and thoughts show up, we try to distract ourselves or suppress or avoid them because we don’t want to deal with them. And no surprise, the more we try not to think or feel, the more those darn thoughts and feelings demand our attention! If I were to say, “don’t think about ice cream”, what do you think you will think about?
At the core of self-compassion is kindness, being kind to yourself. So often it is easy to show kindness to others and so difficult to give it to ourselves. Too often we are quick to criticize ourselves, our thoughts and feelings by comparing ourselves to others or tell ourselves that what we are upset about is trivial, others have lost way more or we believe we should be stronger. Self-criticism and berating ourselves with negative thoughts is the opposite of self-kindness. So telling yourself it is okay to feel what you are feeling and validating your emotions without letting them consume you, is practicing self-kindness. Tell yourself you are doing the best you can do with the experience and knowledge you have in this moment. Practicing non-judgement is practicing kindness. Being kind also means trying to let go of our painful thoughts and feelings, like watching clouds in the sky float away.
So as you enjoy these summer days with a return of some of our pre-COVID freedoms, pay attention and try to notice what feelings and thoughts are showing up and then try to let it go. Be kind to yourself and know that grief is showing up in the darnedest places for everyone. You are not alone.