Disenfranchised grief amid the Covid-19 pandemic
The Covid-19 pandemic is entering its third month. Early on it did not seem so hard to shelter in place, at least to me. I anticipated that it would be over fairly soon and I didn’t have to face many of the challenges others have. While I was working from home, at least I was still working. My husband is still employed and working from home, so I have company while sheltering. I missed being able to see my children, but I could talk to them by phone and Zoom. I could connect with friends in Zoom coffee and happy hours and with the people at Grace by phone. I do not have school-age children who had to learn how to go to school remotely; no college-age children suddenly home for the semester; no high school students missing graduation or prom.
But somehow the announcement that the Illinois stay-at-home order would continue until the end of May (and could last even longer) caused me to feel anxious, sad and a little overwhelmed. I’ve read a lot about the grief associated with the Covid-19 pandemic, but now it has begun to hit close to home. I want to talk about this grief and offer some links to things that might help.
Kirsten Weir quotes psychologist Sherry Cormier in an article about grief and Covid-19 for the American Psychological Association’s website:
The COVID-19 pandemic is an epidemiological crisis, but also a psychological one. While the situation provokes anxiety, stress and sadness, it is also a time of collective sorrow, says Sherry Cormier, PhD, a psychologist who specializes in grief and grief mentoring. “It’s important that we start recognizing that we’re in the middle of this collective grief. We are all losing something now.”
The losses that we are experiencing are extensive: loss of our view of the world as safe, predictable and benevolent; loss of employment income, or educational opportunities for ourselves or our children; loss of freedom and social movement, visiting with friends, travel; the loss of collective gatherings at church, sporting events, entertainment, graduations, proms, team sports and clubs; and the loss of routine and connections to the things we like to do.
Our grief over these losses is often disenfranchised. In a webinar recently presented by the Hospice Foundation of America , Kenneth Doka, PhD, Senior Consultant for the Hospice Foundation, defines disenfranchised grief as “a loss that is not socially sanctioned, openly acknowledged or publicly mourned. We have a loss, but no right to acknowledge that loss.” He notes that this type of grief can result in empathetic failure. Others may fail to empathize. (“What are you complaining about? No one died.”) Or empathetic failure can come from within ourselves (“My loss is not that important.")
Doka says that it is important to “enfranchise grief”— to be sensitive to these losses and to name them and validate them as real and important to the persons experiencing them. It’s also important to provide support and maintain our social connections. Phone calls, Zoom family meetings or coffee/cocktail hours, long-distance reading to grandchildren, teens getting together socially distanced in cars in parking lots, Zoom coffee with the Pastor, Zoom yoga, socially distanced walks outdoors with a friend, participating in the streamed worship on Sunday morning — the list of ways to maintain connections goes on. (I’m getting a little tired of Zoom, but what would we do without it?)
Please reach out to others as we make our way through this difficult time, especially to those who are not connected online. It is good for them — and good for you.
If you find yourself struggling, please reach out for help. If you have a therapist, reach out to him or her. Most are seeing clients in telehealth or phone sessions. You can also call Grace and leave me a message, and I will call you back!
With you in Christ,
Pat Gulik. RN
(708) 366-6900 ext. 219
Here are some helpful articles and resources.
COVID-19 Resource and Information Guide from the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). This is an extensive and excellent resource that includes information about many topics, including healthcare access and finances, in addition to mental health resources:
Necessary self care during COVID: Working through loss
In order to get through the months ahead, it’s important to validate your feelings and work them through. Especially those related to feeling out of control, sad about lost lives and opportunities, and real, authentic grief.
It's OK to grieve the loss of rituals during COVID-19
People should acknowledge the pain they feel over the temporary loss of meaningful social rituals and embrace the challenge of creating new ones,
Coping with change and loss in Covid-19 times
Our lives have changed, and we are experiencing the loss of so much that we took for granted before.