I suddenly recognized a face I couldn’t quite put my finger on (this is a metaphor, by the way). My congregation has been having a Sunday morning coffee hour via Zoom, and this past week someone remarked about the strange mood in the air at the grocery or wherever people gather six feet apart to transact business these days.
She said that instead of people being demonstrably happy and relieved to see one another, there is an invisible pall hanging over friends and neighbors as we acknowledge one another and move on. Others agreed about the presence of this thing in the air at Wegman’s, Wal-Mart, and Lowes. I responded with denial, and said that folks walking dogs and running along the waterfront are still friendly. But in truth, what she was talking about is there too.
Grief is the face I suddenly recognized. We see it on one another’s faces and feel it in the air that is the space between us. A friend sent me an article from the Harvard Business Review, of all strange places, entitled, “That Discomfort You’re Feeling is Grief.” As soon as I saw the headline it was a eureka moment.
That heaviness in the air when there should be pleasure and release in one another’s company, is grief. It is a thick yet invisible and odorless presence. Except in the aftermath of a death, grief visits us unannounced and appears in the room before we have a chance to prepare. We begin to feel leaden, a bit hazy, and as if something just isn’t right.
We know the pandemic will end but we do not know when or at what cost. As much as we would like to get some distance from the unseen specter, the hourly drumbeat with clicking streamers counting the sick and dead keeps its ghostly presence near.
Someone emailed me, “everything has changed!” She meant everything we know to expect has been lost, and loss begets grief.
Even the anxiety we might feel is a kind of grief. It is that moment we stand with one foot on the dock and the other on a boat drifting away – make a choice or land in the drink. But that moment in between, before we decide, is filed with anxiety. We know that when we jump it will be toward something at the expense of what we leave behind. The anxiety is anticipatory grief for what will be lost, and a grief for the change rendered.
Fortunately, simply naming grief is powerful. Recognizing what we are feeling and that it is pervasive – infusing the air all around and between us – is itself liberating.
We can work with grief once we name it. To know its name is to be assured it will not have the last word. Yes, we have lost a lot and may lose more. Yes, everything really is different. Yes, the world we have known is probably going to change dramatically as a result of this pandemic. Yes, grief is appropriate in this moment. And yes, there is another shore on the other side of this grief, and we will get there.
In the meantime, recognize that grief has pulled up a chair at the table and will be joining us for a while. Doing just that should clear the air a bit.