by Jan Dixon
Special to The Leaven
OVERLAND PARK — It’s been a tough time.
In a matter of only a few weeks, a virus most of us had never even heard of a couple of months ago has led to school closings, “shelter in place” orders, and even the lockdown of entire countries.
We have learned new terms like “social distancing,” stocked up on hand sanitizer and now wash our hands incessantly.
And with each update of the never-ending news cycle, we learn anew what we should and should not be doing in the midst of this terrifying pandemic.
But how are we supposed to feel?
In a world that seems it’s turned upside down, many are feeling grief.
One of the world’s leading grief counselors, David Kessler, addressed the topic in a recent interview on the “Unlocking Us” podcast.
“We are all dealing with the collective loss of the world we knew,” he said, “and we are not used to this kind of grief.”
Disruptions to normal routines of daily life have contributed to a sense of unease and sadness. While mourning the loss of thousands of lives, we are also mourning the loss of normalcy.
“Grief can take the form of anger, worry, sadness, frustration,” said Liz LaColla, LSCSW, a Catholic clinical social worker and therapist in Topeka. “It doesn’t look the same every day, but it is a normal reaction to a loss.
“And it’s definitely OK to feel sad over what we’re losing.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused job loss, worry about loved ones, feelings of isolation and changes in daily habits. Special plans and monumental events — like graduations and weddings and once-in-a-lifetime trips — have been canceled. Financial worries and fear for the future have grown.
“It’s OK to feel sad and to grieve,” said Father Bill Bruning, pastor of Queen of the Holy Rosary Parish in Overland Park. “These two words in the Bible — ‘Jesus wept’ — give us permission to have feelings of sadness and empathy.”
An article in the March edition of Harvard Business Review by Scott Berinato — “That Discomfort You’re Feeling Is Grief” — says it is common for people to become distracted and for the mind to wander under stress, often falling into patterns of negative thinking, which is heightened during times of crisis.
“Loss is a reminder of how many things are out of our control,” said LaColla. “Sudden and unexpected loss can bring on feelings of anxiety and fear along with that grief.”
It becomes harder to see the bigger picture and the positive, creative possibilities ahead.
“We cannot allow ourselves to get stuck in our grief though,” said Father Bruning. “As Christians, we are sad and we grieve, but we know this crisis is temporary and we have hope.”
Grief can be an isolating experience under normal circumstances, but social distancing and quarantine have made the process lonelier still. Not only are people unable to comfort others, a documented source of good feeling for humans, but they are also forced to grieve alone.
Father Bruning suggests that we can turn our loneliness — “I am alone” — into something more productive: solitude.
Solitude is recognizing that I am alone . . . with my God.
“Start by making a gratitude list of 15-20 good things about each day,” Father Bruning suggested. “Like the frost melting and leaving the leaves on the forsythia bright yellow in the sunshine. This is God’s way of saying he is here with us.”
While grieving a loss is an inevitable part of life, doing so can help us cope and come to terms with grief, eventually finding a way to pick up the pieces and move on with life.
“There is no right or wrong way to grieve, but there are healthy ways to deal with the grieving process,” said LaColla.
These tips from doctors, ministers and counselors can also help:
1. Let yourself feel your sadness. Release your emotions through crying, but believe in your own strength to get through this time.
2. Share your feelings with someone who cares.
3. Chanel your creativity into a project that consumes your thoughts.
4. Exercise to relieve “feel good” endorphins to boost your mood.
5. Help others. Being there for others will bring you happiness.
6. Pray. God knows all about suffering.
Father Bruning suggested we look to Holy Thursday for comfort and encouragement. The words, “The night he was betrayed . . . he gave thanks,” tell us that no matter what was thrown at Jesus, the Father’s love was there.
“The victory was won for all of us on Easter Sunday. We know the end of the story,” he said.
These are challenging times and it’s not surprising that people are feeling scared, sad and even frustrated.
“We can rely on God during this crisis,” said LaColla. “He is our constant.”