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"Collective Grief" During the Covid-19 Pandemic

The lockdown rules and imposed isolation in New York is such a challenging—and unusual—reality. While we deal with this pandemic, and all the fear and uncertainty that comes with it, we want nothing more than to connect with the people we care about. But the one thing we can’t do is be around each other. It’s the opposite, actually.

So we all unite in our separation. We isolate to save each other. But there is no comfort in being separated during this extremely frightening crisis. This epidemic is depriving us of that most basic expression of support in the face of loss: physical presence.

The Harvard Business Review recently published an article about what we’re going through with this pandemic called, “That Discomfort You’re Feeling Is Grief,” in which expert David Kessler (author of Finding Meaning: The Sixth Stage of Grief) talks about how we’re feeling a number of different griefs:
“We feel the world has changed, and it has. We know this is temporary, but it doesn’t feel that way, and we realize things will be different. Just as going to the airport is forever different from how it was before 9/11, things will change and this is the point at which they changed. The loss of normalcy; the fear of economic toll; the loss of connection. This is hitting us and we’re grieving. Collectively. We are not used to this kind of collective grief in the air.”

Grief is one of the most powerful emotions we have ever experienced, getting to know it in a way we never wanted to after our mom died ... when our grief was a force that we could almost see. It consumed us. And as people moved on and went back to their normal lives, our family was left within this painfully cruel grief bubble as our own “new normal.” And one that was just so very difficult to accept.

How we got through that time as a family was by being together. It was like we didn’t know how to function without being together. Even if that meant we sat there saying nothing. Or drove around in silence. It didn’t matter. The physical presence of our dad and our other siblings are what provided us comfort. We were connected in an intangible way through our grief, and that pain was our pain, and that loss was our loss, and being together was the only thing that helped.

The idea that we are sharing a “collective grief” amid this pandemic really struck us because we know how personal loss (grief) is best managed through physical and emotional support, yet you’re completely deprived of that connection in this crisis. The concept that sick people have to be alone in an ICU, and loved ones have to FaceTime with a dying family member because they can’t see them to say goodbye. Or the reality that people can’t hold funerals and hug each other and mourn together is almost too much to bear. It seems impossible but this where we are.

So we have to find ways to continue to connect amid the lack of physical presence. We are lucky to live in a time when we have virtual tools to help close the gap. As a family, we are staying connected in any way we can. We are setting up Zoom calls to check in, we’re having virtual happy hours, we’re in group text chains (often filled with very silly memes!) and we’re FaceTiming each other constantly. Little connections are going a long way. So keep thinking of each other and connecting in whatever ways you can.

We will get through this and when we do, it’s hugs all around!

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