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.
Accumulated grief is something that people in later years carry as well, with or without COVID. I personally have lost 5 in the last year: a close friend, a brother-in-law, a brother, my ex, and another good friend. Only one was to COVID, and that was “officially a heart attack” but a condition made worse by COVID. I did attend a Zoom meeting for one which helped, but the others will wait til the time “when we can gather again.” My shoulders hang lower these days. Age? Accumulated grief? or both?
Cam Miller says
I’m sorry to hear about those loses – some of them known to me. Yes, cumulative grief and each new one with offshoots from previous ones. The goodness of grief, if we can get there, is the richness humus it creates as we age. Be well, and thanks for photos of the seasons and times of day on your bay!
Mary Rose Cass says
All of the ways in which grief becomes part of our life experiences are difficult to process at times. I believe there is no true “closure”, but acceptance. What makes grief deeply felt during covid, for me and those I love, is the absence of physical touch…no handholding, back rubs, hugs with tears, looking into one another’s eyes, closely, praying together while holding hands….the human touch of love, compassion and support is vital. And all of this applies to times of joy as well…
Healing will come when our words of joy or consolation are met with human touch.
Cam Miller says
Yes to all of that longing. I look forward to that healing along with you. Thanks.
Joanna S Adams says
Thank you for this, Cam. The ache of losses marks this pandemic as a deeply visceral wound. In the meantime as we wait for each others’ arms and eyes, I take my consolation in music, especially Hauser’s cello, soulful and triumphant “Now we are free, and “Albinoni’s Adagio, and ” Gabriel’s Oboe”. Truly, God can “make all things new” when the heart is lifted and freed through the alchemy of melody.
After my father died, five years ago, as I walked through my grief and begged him for a signal that he was in a place of peace and joy, he sent a snow goose overhead. OK, I thought, good enough. But, as i shifted my gaze further along, the sky filled with flocks of them, filling the sky wherever i craned my neck. I saw hundreds, Cam, and they kept coming. I sobbed out my gratitude; “Oh, Daddy, I hear. I see. You are HOME!” The knowledge of the abundance in which he now dwelled, and of which he told me, was clear. I understood death in a deeper way than ever before. That joy has never left me.
Cam Miller says
That is a beautiful story. The snow geese visit here during their migration so the breath-taking beauty of it is something I recognize. I’m happy for your sweet moment. Thank you.
I just realized I have a lot of grief to process. My brother died alone in a nursing home last spring, and I’m grieving over a divorce.
Cam Miller says
That is a lot of grief. The ‘other side’ is possible.