How We Move Through Grief

I was running a 3 mile loop as part of my shelter-in-place coronavirus morning routine, listening to Brene Brown talking to grief expert David Kessler, and I passed a beautiful yellow iris. I was absorbed in the moment because David Kessler was talking about how “judgment demands punishment” and Brene was asking him to repeat himself so she could really hear what he was saying. He completed his thought, “Either you punish someone else or yourself,” when you judge. Mind blown. 

I judge – myself, others, myself for judging, my grief, other’s grief, etc. Yet, I stopped to take a picture of the yellow iris, a thought in the back of my mind reminding me of how my mom loved irises. I snapped the pic and continued listening to Kessler and Brene, hearing how their mutual listening was bringing them so much joy even in the midst of the difficult information.

It wasn’t until I got home and started thinking through all of the ways that I’m grieving right now that I realized that I took that picture remembering my mom, who died when I was 16. I remembered how when I was in that last half mile of my run, my mind had wandered to that experience of grief and was full of judgment. I lost her over 25 years ago and the grief has changed over the years but has never really ended. And yet, it feels so distant. I don’t feel the grief with the same intensity, and I thought that my experience wouldn’t matter. 

Right now, there’s much to grieve. We have entered a time of extended transition between a Before and After COVID-19 world. In the short term, we’ve lost the ability to see and touch each other. My kids have lost their time to just be silly while doing their sports, the bonding that happens in the down moments, the experience of big events like special field trips and unique school functions. The old way of passing and interacting with people is changing. Sometimes it’s bigger smiles, other times it’s fear filled angry or frustrated conversations. 

Then there are the growing numbers of dying people, the sadness in seeing broken systems not serving the people, the difficult decisions that are being made in places like Spain and Italy, where there are so many people who need respirators that they have to make decisions about who to allow to die. Grief for all of the people making these tragic decisions, for the people who have died and will die. For those who struggle to have enough food, the most vulnerable populations. 

More than ever, now we need to be responsible to ourselves – body and mind. As we step into a collective grieving, softening towards ourselves, our judging selves, our hate-where-we-are-right-now selves, our resistance, our striving, our hopes and fears, it’s more important than ever to really tend the health of our bodies and our minds.

Last night I saw an article circulating on Facebook. Alcohol consumption is up 42% in the Bay Area since we entered into shelter-in-place. There could be so many reasons for this, but I think that at the root of it, this new reality is really frightening. Kids are home from school. Families are in tight spaces. More people who lived on their own are more alone than they ever have been. And one of the tools in the toolbox for dealing with moments like this is alcohol. 

I got sober nearly 3 years ago and am still working out what sobriety is and how it works. My husband has a beer every once in a while. That’s cool. But I drank more than I needed to every night. It was a habit that frustrated me and I wanted out. We so often use alcohol as medication. I definitely used it as a medication. All of my uncomfortable feelings and insecurities became less pronounced as I drank more. 

Drinking goes wrong when used as medication because it’s misguided. We used to think that leeches could help solve so many medical issues, but they did nothing if not injuring people more. Alcohol as a medication is like leeching a wound. I heard someone tell a story about how at Trader Joe’s they were announcing all of the things they were limiting to two per client. At the end of the list, the announcer proclaimed that alcohol was not included in that list, “Take as much as you like.” What does that tell you? It’s a social handshake that reminds us that alcohol is an acceptable way of dealing with the crisis. 

I’m someone who is thinking a lot about how we manage our emotions. This time is an opportunity to practice and learn new skills for emotional regulation. I feel like the universe is leading us to a place where getting right in our souls and bodies is key. It’s key for survival.

Moving our bodies!! Eating healthy. Self compassion, compassion, gratitude, love, connection, joy together, creativity, touch (self touch!), managing the tough emotions by scheduling time to feel them, feeling emotions, helping others. These are the ways that we can move through the difficulty of this transition. 

Careful caring. Compassionate integrity. It’s time to bring ourselves into more alignment with our best selves, the wise ones that know what we need to do that maybe we have been ignoring. It’s time to offer ourselves gentle love and to stand strong for others. It is time to do what we believe is right in a way that helps others around us. It is time to learn to feel and learn not to let our feelings drive us. And it is also time to grieve what has been and was. What is next will not be the same as what was in the pre-COVID-19 world. 

That iris was a reminder that I will always carry the grief of losing my mother. I will carry it with me as I remember that we will move through this time and that we will always carry the grief of losing the world as we knew it through our lifetimes. There will be an After COVID-19. It is only a dream

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