There are days it has occurred to me that emerging from deep pandemic life (as we did officially on July 1 as we moved into stage 3) warrants some kind of ceremony or ritual… some kind of formal acknowledgement that much has been lost. Your loss and my loss might not weigh the same – the father you buried, the funeral you couldn’t attend, the weddings cancelled, the business lost, the first year of University that you basically did alone, the re-wounding of a generations-deep trauma, the cancer treatment you went through without a single hug – there’s a different gravity to each of these.
They all deserve honouring.
But, as grief expert David Kessler told Brene Brown in a podcast I listened to in April 2020, at the very beginning of this pandemic experience:
“We are all dealing with the collective loss of the world we knew. The world we have all been accustomed to is now gone. And this feeling is grief. Grief is the death of something – of someone, a relationship, a job loss. This is a collective loss of the world we all lived in before the pandemic, and like every other loss, we didn’t know what we had until it was gone.”
Kessler names just a few of the losses: the loss of physical connection, the loss of routine, the loss of work, the loss of physical touch, the loss of gathering for meals. And offers permission to name it, even with this charged scary word that we’d rather barge past and body-slam to the kerb. “We have to name this for what it is. If we don’t name it, we can’t feel it. We don’t have to compare losses. The worst loss is always your loss. Kids are complaining about missing school or their friends, and we have to remember that school is maybe their worse loss they’ve ever [experienced]. And as a bereaved parent, I’m telling you, this is some hideous losses we’re in right now, and you can name them, they’re valid and legitimate.”
We don’t have to compare losses. We don’t have to have the winning loss, the worst loss, to be allowed to feel it. (Oh, it’s nothing compared to what you’ve gone through…) If we diminish our loss or grief, we start to erase ourselves, and then what we’re doing in the world is enabling erasure. If we can honour our grief, even when it’s small, we invite it to exist, to move, to be metabolized, and then, what we’re doing in the world, is enabling healing.
If we can be centred on ourselves and in our experience of life, and acknowledge that grief or loss or regret is part of what we’re feeling, then, I think, we don’t end up with a bunch of orphaned or shadowed emotions that demand to be centre-stage, that take up all the air in the room, and smother everyone else’s feelings. If we can be centred and acknowledge our feelings and an experience with a kind of lightness or kindness, I think we can hold the idea that everyone has suffered, and doesn’t that grow our deep sense of compassion for all beings?
For example, when I don’t give myself permission to say, man, this was a tough year that we just went through, (because I have privilege and I was well-resourced and many people had it a lot lot worse), then I find this little gremlin pops up now and then, that’s peevish and angry at certain people for not understanding or being more supportive… people who were so deep in their own experience that they didn’t have a lot of capacity to reach out and say, how are you guys doing? but who I kinda feel like they shoulda because they’re our parents or a boss or in some kind of relationship that I might anticipate a level of support from. But when I sit at my 6 month recap of 2021 and go, holy, there was some stuff there that we had to navigate, that wasn’t easy, the gremlin goes away. I have compassion for what I went through. And all those other folk too.
I let myself have a little sob that the kids didn’t get their venison chili send off for the last week of school. It’s such a silly thing, isn’t it. But I feel a bit undone by it. By the administration of Signal Hill Elementary (Principal Roberta Kubik, and VPs Mario Tenisci and Melissa Martin), who steered that little community through the craziest year I can imagine having to shepherd 100 or more 5- 12 year olds through, and who are all moving on to new schools next year, without a proper send-off or thanks. For the fact that they hatched a plan to feast the students on Monday. (Chef Felix and Chef Maggie from the Squamish-Lil’wat Community Center in Whistler had make a venison chili and bannock for every student at the school.) But then, school was cancelled district-wide at 6pm on Sunday, because of the heatwave temperatures. In another beautiful example of grace and adaptation and responsiveness, the school *pivoted* and “while the students didn’t get the send off we had hoped for”, the food ended up going to the Pemberton Food bank and was redistributed to evacuees, first responders and needy community members. I don’t even think it’s missing out on the bannock (which I KNOW my kid would have loved!) that makes me so emotional about this… it’s something about the beautiful endless example of having the entire plan thrown up in the air, and asking, okay, how can we do something good with this, that exhausts and overwhelms me.
I cry for all the feasts we didn’t get to have together this past year. And all the tiny generosities that bloomed up in their place. (May we keep remembering how to give, even as things are being taken away from us.)
In an interview in the Harvard Business Review, Kessler expanded on this idea and the power of naming this as grief: “It helps us feel what’s inside of us. When you name it, you feel it and it moves through you. Emotions need motion. Your body is producing the feeling. If we allow the feelings to happen, they’ll happen in an orderly way, and it empowers us. Sometimes we try not to feel what we’re feeling because we have this image of a ‘gang of feelings’ that will overrun me. The truth is a feeling that moves through us. We feel it and it goes and then we go to the next feeling. There’s no gang out to get us. It’s absurd to think we shouldn’t feel grief right now. Let yourself feel the grief and keep going.”
We’re moving back out into community in new and old ways these days. I see you. I see you have had a hard year. I don’t know the details or specifics. But I acknowledge it. This wasn’t easy. It can be a relief to say that out loud.