This is so much more than grief — what we are living with every day. The more we know about our world, the more we can respond, not react, to the chaos we’re living in. The more we know about ourselves, the better chance we have of making it through with less permanent damage.
Yes, we’re all grieving – personally and universally. For ourselves, for our loved ones, for strangers. For merciless wildfires and relentless news reports of cruelty. For a clusterf**k of a political scene that bloodied the wholeness of our lives. Right now, there are too many things to tick off every day. So …. what’s what?
Grief itself is straightforward but not simple. We lose something; our worlds fall apart; we help each other put it all into some new shape again. If that doesn’t happen, things can hurt forever. It is idiosyncratic. We may experience deep emotions or none. We may manage well or enter a chaos of being. In the middle of the deepest grief, it can feel like the future is made of cinders. We pay for grief physically, mentally, spiritually, socially, emotionally. No facet of being human is above being touched, destroyed or set adrift.
Don’t get discouraged as you read on. It’s so easy to get flooded and shut down right now. One critical thing we can do to stay healthy is to recognize specifically what is depleting us and give that challenge the right kind of support. Grieving is bad enough; the last thing we need to feel is that we’re even failing at that.
We are living with the experience of Multiple Losses. There are too many things happening too fast for us to process any of them well. Grief can’t settle in. Every significant death of person or thing drags behind it all of its broken parts. (Losing a job can mean losing income, possessions, purpose, self-esteem, community, or support.)
This overwhelm of Multiple Losses is different than single-pointed grief; the abilities we need to strategize or overcome are different; survival skills are different.
But we as a country are also in Trauma. We say in my field that this is the experience of ‘helplessness and horror.’ Watching buildings burn and people die, having to leave loved ones to die alone, watching refrigerated trucks lined up outside of hospitals for those who died slowly and those who were gone in one day. Anticipating more feral and deadly wildfires. Holding our breath waiting for the other shoe to drop.
You can’t work with trauma by saying it’s natural and will just take time. Trauma requires different awarenesses and skills to shake out of our bones. If we don’t deal with it, many times it will get our whole life stuck forever.
There’s one more huge wound that many of us haven’t known to name. It is ‘Moral Distress,’ simplistically described as the debilitating, demoralizing experience of seeing your deepest ethics and values violated. These are the things that you know just aren’t right, often because you know what the right thing to do is and circumstances or policies prevent you from doing it.
For medical providers, moral distress arises when patients need intense care that they know they can’t get. This last year I’ve struggled not to feel hateful at the way our country has been run, at the COVID deaths that wouldn’t have happened if we’d had a call to action from our leadership when the pandemic started. That isn’t my grief talking.
Take a deep breath. Take two; they’re free. And actually, one isn’t going to help very much. Keep doing that. It’s amazing how well it works.
We are cooking on high right now, and in the fire we’re also finding compassion and creativity, miracles and moments of wonder, and life-saving acts of kindness. We fumble, we butt heads, we flare, we fail, but we also show up when we need to. In the middle of hell, we still rock.
Bless Elisabeth Kübler-Ross for her stages of grief, but that model is over 50 years old and we have learned so much more about death and grief in half of a century. Today’s leaders in my field work with the complexities of our current experience; they have tools and sophisticated approaches to engage our perfect storm and help us weather it.
They are asking President Biden to formally address strategies and allot resources to support our mental, emotional and spiritual health nationally. It is no less important than the state of our economy or getting everyone vaccinated. I mean that. In fact, our resilience, faith and trust moving forward will be crucial parts in how our recovery efforts work. Link to the Hospice Foundation of America’s website. The Hospice Foundation of America website has the call to action for all of us to join in this message to the President. Please take a minute to sign it for yourself and for the rest of us.