Updated: Aug 17, 2020
The word grief is defined as a “deep and poignant distress caused by or as if by bereavement”, although it is most often associated as being related to the death of ‘someone’ it can also be caused by the death of ‘something’. In their podcast, Brown and Kessler (2020) describe the coronavirus pandemic as the “collective loss of the world as we know it”. Like with any loss, the pandemic brings to light what we weren’t aware that we had until it was gone (Brown and Kessler, 2020).
Both bereavement and lockdown share feelings and experiences of numbness, boredom and all-encompassing thoughts. Loss of normality, of physical connection and of routine. It would be impossible to count the considerable amount of losses that we have endured since the beginning of March 2020 as like with the loss of a loved one, it has affected all aspects of our lives. There remains a constant dull reminder of the current situation – all-encompassing thoughts where everything else pales in comparison. Because of this it appears to be the only thing we are able to think and talk about, leading to the same conversations being had with each person we speak to over and over again.
Both experiences lead to grieving previous satisfactions. By this I mean ways that we would be satisfied, through productivity, predictability and the ability to de-stress, de-compress or switch off. By chasing our former realities, I ask “how can we feel like we did before this happened?”
The expression of grief in public is often viewed as “embarrassing and shameful” (Potts, 2019, p19). Similar feelings of judgement and shame can be felt during this unique situation brought on by the coronavirus pandemic (Brown and Kessler, 2020). As judgement by mental necessity appears to demand punishment it is no surprise that when enduring grief, we will either punish ourselves or others (Brown and Kessler, 2020). To justify our pain, as with the loss of a loved one, we can’t help but to compare our situations, “whose bereavement is worse?” becomes “whose lockdown situation is worse?” as a way to gain a sense of control and validation that the grief we feel is crueller than others around us (Potts, 2019). However, despite privilege and the effect of Covid-19 not being equal or even measurable for everyone, we must remember that everything is relative, all feelings of grief are valid and ultimately the worst loss is always your own (Brown and Kessler, 2020).
To make sense of the injustice of grief we look for meaning, hope and purpose. As with the nature of the pandemic and the progression of lockdown we desire all grief to be linear, progressing forward to something better than before, as we want to know that the grief is somehow worth it. However, as Kessler (2019, 2020) explains, the reality of grief is very different from the expectation. “Meaning seeking is viewed as a pole vault out of pain and grief, however, it is not a spiritual bypass to the pain” (Brown and Kessler, 2020). As both loss and death are out of our control, meaning is never found in the death itself but rather in what happens afterwards, in the grieving individual. As the grief is processed this will give way to gratitude – gratitude not in the loss or trauma but rather in that person or situation (Brown and Kessler, 2020). Both death and the nature of the pandemic are part of life itself, avoiding the inevitability makes the repercussions far greater.
Where death/coronavirus are an event → Grief/masks become the repercussion
Both are prolonged states of being, and like with grief, the aftereffects of coronavirus now manifest itself as ingrained symptoms of an event, where adjustments to life and precautions become necessary for a new normal to be reached.
With regards to the coronavirus pandemic, Brown and Kessler (2020) explain that “we will eventually find meaning and come out of this but the world as we were accustomed to is now gone”. Despite the increasing death tole, economic devastation and worldwide impact, can we look at this unique situation as having shed light on the importance of both looking inward into ourselves and in not accepting the way in which the world is governed as acceptable?
The circumstances of the last five months have caused an irreparable shift in the way we live as a society, both locally and globally. From local community involvement in aiding vulnerable or shielding neighbours to the rise of civil unrest, such as the Black Lives Matters movement, which beginning in America and spreading across the rest of the world has sought and effectively highlighted systematic racial inequalities. The space and time created by the pandemic allowed for the inward reflection and civil disobedience that has actively led to a consciousness that the outward impact of our actions can improve and actively make a difference to other people because of the interconnected nature of the world. Universal and inevitable feelings of grief bind individuals together and, in my opinion, can lead to moments of meaning making by working together to improve the world around us rather than relying on governmental bodies to do so.