This is overly autobiographical but I mean it as an illustration. It points toward something true for all of us, especially right now.
I learned about the covert nature of grief the hard way. I didn’t learn much about grief growing up since no one I knew died until late in high school. Over the next four years a host of classmates and friends died from drugs, violence, and suicide. But we were all far apart by then and the impact was blunted. A good friend’s dad died and a girlfriend’s brother – people I knew and cared about but still not family or an intimate friend.
In fact, the first time I ever visited a room in a hospital was after college when I worked in an in-patient mental health unit. Then again during seminary when I did chaplaincy training at New England Deaconess Hospital. Those were the first times I encountered death and dying up close. That included, of course, seeing the ravages of grief hit loved ones. I felt grief those in my care who died, or had a family member dying, but I was an outsider to their lives. What I know now is that each one was a small load of grief entering my system. No one told me grief has a very long half-life.
After becoming an Episcopal priest illness, loss, and death were suddenly a frequent presence. In fact, the job of a pastor is to be present in the midst of times and events that cause grief. I never knew or noticed there is a compounding of grief over time. Then, in mid-life, I become seriously depressed. A good therapist and hard work unearthed a reservoir of unprocessed grief from all kinds of losses. It wasn’t until then that I came to recognize the many and nuanced faces of grief, and how important it is to be present to grief when it is present with us.
So all of that is a cautionary tale. COVID protocols and social distancing is wreaking havoc on our ability to grieve.
So many funerals have been put off until “we can gather again.” Wakes have been limited or restricted. Family and friends who had lived far away and died, have done so without us. Nursing homes, senior life communities, and hospitals have COVID restriction that keep family care-givers and would-be visitors out. All of them sources of grief. Just losing the ability to reach out and touch is a sorrowful loss. The inability to gather close friends, communities of faith, special interest groups and cohorts, not to mention clubs and organizations, are all losses and sources of grief. Weddings, reunions, concerts, theater, sporting events – the limits and loss of each is a source of grief.
I am thinking that when this is over we need to give serious attention to all the grief we have carried, and all the losses we experienced, and the accumulation of small, medium, and large doses of heartache that entered our hearts, minds, and even our bodies during this pandemic. We need to recognize it together and name it out loud, and engage in the rituals of healing – both personal and corporate – that will allow us to move on with unburdened hearts.