We Are Grieving Our Sense of Normalcy
Daily insights on life in the face of uncertainty, by psychiatrist and habit change specialist Dr. Jud Brewer
Could some of what you’re feeling right now, as the discomforts of this new life unfold, be grief? Do you have a sense of loss about being unable to spend time with a loved one or your job being disrupted or are you missing close connection with other people?
Today’s column is about a lesser-known type of grief — and how to work with any of the stages of grief you might be feeling right now.
Grief is a normal human response to loss. In this moment, we have all lost something critical: our sense of normalcy. What was regular and predictable just a few weeks ago is now gone. Some people have lost their jobs; others have lost regular contact with their loved ones. We might be grieving the loss of a certain way of life or activities that we now need to put on hold.
I learned something new about grief from an interview I read with David Kessler, a grief expert. Kessler talked about anticipatory grief — the feeling we get about the future when the future is uncertain. He talked about this in terms of a loss of safety. Yes, coronavirus is dangerous and can spread before people experience symptoms. That hidden danger is very scary, but so too is our loss of certainty about the future: the sense that our jobs, our health, and our plans for next month (let alone next year) are also under siege.
How do we work with this? As I’ve discussed in earlier columns, learning how our minds work is the first step toward working with them. Understanding the stages of grief gives us a conceptual framework to then become aware of how these complex emotions show up in our minds and bodies.
According to Kessler and Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, the five classic stages of grief are denial, anger, bargaining, sadness, and acceptance. We can see a lot of denial right now on multiple levels. On a personal level, I’m encountering people who think the virus won’t affect them or their family. On a local level, I see people not distancing as advised. On a national level, I’ve seen government officials say this is all going to blow over…