Ringing in 2021: Grieving and hope
by Cheryl Dizon-Reynante
The year 2020 has been a year like no other. People around the globe have had to undergo concerns about health and the wellbeing of their families and friends, job and financial loss, lifestyle changes, as well as the stress of staying away from loved ones. Life as we knew it is out of reach. On both an individual and global level, we are mourning.
What comes to mind for me are the stages of grief. Psychiatrist Elizabeth Kubler-Ross coined a theory that has been applied to people who have experienced any kind of loss. And right now, humankind is collectively feeling huge amounts of change and loss.
As we begin 2021, perhaps we should start the new year with an acknowledgement of loss and emotions so that we can move towards acceptance and hope. I invite you to reflect on these phases of grief. This is not a linear process, meaning that not everyone experiences all of these stages, and that it is normal to go back to a prior stage. Sometimes people stay in one phase for a long time and do not experience others. Everyone experiences loss differently.
Shock and denial
When people hear devastating news, they can feel numb at first. This is a defence mechanism that allows humans to slowly absorb bad news and then arrive at reality. Denial can shortly follow, and throughout this pandemic we have heard people say things like, “This is a hoax” or “It’s not really that bad” or “If I catch COVID, I’ll be fine.” There has been a lot of anger expressed at people who have such viewpoints and who do not follow the health guidelines. It is possible that they are experiencing some level of denial.
When people feel that their life has been flipped upside down, they can also experience anger. This can be viewed as another defense mechanism that can override feelings of fear, pain, and hurt because it is easier to be mad. Oftentimes the target of anger can be another person, a large organization or system, or even an inanimate object.
Over the last nine months or so, we have seen a growing crescendo of anger from people. Sometimes it is aimed at the government or a politician, a particular group of people, or individuals who choose not to follow pandemic guidelines. Some people are angry with their employer, another country or even at God.
It can be easy for some to stay mad for a long time, but long term, it is not healthy to stay angry.
This phase can be seen as another way to delay intense emotions such as sadness, guilt or hurt. We see bargaining as a way to feel some sense of control or predictability. For those who are religious, people can make deals with God by offering to do things in exchange for a desired outcome.
Throughout the pandemic, we see shades of this happening when people strictly adhere to the guidelines. This allows people to feel more in control and calm because they can see a good result happening, i.e. not catching the coronavirus, helping to lessen the amount of case numbers for the greater community, which will eventually lead to a return of some sense of normal.
Sadness and despair
These are very heavy emotions that people can feel after the shock, anger and bargaining phases have eased. People might say, “How are we going to pay the bills?” “What will I do if my loved one gets sick?” or “I really miss hugs, laughter and being with my family.” It can be mentally and emotionally painful and some try to avoid feeling the depth of these emotions.
The problem is that if we do not acknowledge and feel sadness, we may also avoid feeling calm, hope and gratitude.
Getting to this point doesn’t mean that you necessarily stop feeling the loss, but the intense emotions of despair and anger may have lessened. We have times when we feel more relaxed and calm again, can make good problem-solving decisions, and feel hopeful and thankful for what we have.
No matter what you are going through right now, hopefully, you will find peace and comfort. I see these glimmers of hope when people tell me about “the gifts of COVID”:
- I have more time with my family
- I’m thankful that I have food today
- Not everyone has a roof over their heads, but I do
- My friends and I call each other more
- I’ve learned to enjoy daily walks
- My new hobby is fun and relieves some of my stress
- I haven’t gotten a cold this year like I always do
- Thank goodness I have access to technology because others don’t
- We live in a country with free healthcare, education and freedom
Wishing for you a Happy New Year full of hope and good things to come!
Cheryl Dizon-Reynante is a licensed therapist with the Canadian Counselling and Psychotherapy Association.