Last updated: 3 people I know died in a week: This is the new normal

3 people I know died in a week: This is the new normal


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We’ve done a lot of talking about the new normal, but beginning to actually exist in it is an entirely different scenario.

Within one week, three people that I know have died; when I heard the news of the third, something inside of me broke. It turns out that months of mental and emotional preparation for what is undoubtedly to come – a world in which each of us will know those who have died from coronavirus – still left me temporarily unprepared.

And this is the new normal – as the societal norms surrounding grief and loss (we gather to mourn, we pause to remember) have been altered in the wake of COVID-19, so too will our ability to cope with grief in traditional capacities – presenting ramifications in both our personal and professional lives.

(For grief is an intruder who recognizes no boundaries or barriers, who arrives quietly within even the most ordinary of moments, rattling your ribcage and rising up through your chest, demanding to be felt, seen, heard, expressed).

Meanwhile, many organizations are trying to both keep their employees supported and employed and their doors open, so to say, as they transition to work from home – the homes in which we will also celebrate milestones, educate our children, eat all of our meals, practice tele-med, grieve our dead, etc.

Even the most well-intentioned and efficient business couldn’t begin to dream of the scenario that we’re facing today. The best companies know that the heart of their organization is their people – what do you do when that collective heart is breaking over and over and over again?

How do we adapt? How do we move forward? How do we carry on when we must repeatedly live the unimaginable and speak the unspeakable as it unfolds around us in real-time?

I don’t pretend to have all (or any) of the answers – I write this only to share what helped me get through my darkest hours thus far, in the hopes that perhaps any of these things might help you, or help you help someone else.

Empathy and authenticity: It’s okay if you don’t know what to say – and you can say that

Yesterday upon hearing the news, I opened my laptop after about an hour, discovered I couldn’t focus, and decided to give myself an additional hour. Two hours later it was clear that the comfort of my routine couldn’t offer comfort that day; there was simply too much sorrow and too much rage within to even start what needed to be done.

This was further debilitating, for routines offer solace, and our routines are suddenly upended, with no end in sight.

After texting my team and apologizing (because I was embarrassed on a level; I felt shame that I was letting them down, although of course that’s not how they felt about it), I started cleaning, then decided to repot some flowers, then text and make a couple of calls, then clean again, then attempted to change all the batteries on our home security sensors.

Because sitting down with the grief and anger that I was feeling felt too much. And yet it’s what’s required to begin to move on.

I tried to think of all the good that’s still in the world, and after a few more hours, rewatched several times several minutes within an all-hands broadcast that had given me hope and comfort when I’d needed it just last week – which feels like years ago now.

It’s nearly impossible to know what to say during this time – but I did get some replies to my out of office that broke my heart all over again – because of the kindness and compassion within:

“I am so sorry for what you are going through right now. I know there is nothing we can say to ease your pain. But I wanted to send you all of my love and positive energy. Hang in there, we’re all in this together. Please take care of yourself.”

“My heart hurts. I have you and so many others in my prayers as we traverse thru the smoke and sadness. Take care of yourself and find that quiet place and know you are loved and held in friendship!”

“I am so very sorry. I do not yet know anyone who has died but I imagine we all will. I totally understand the rage piece. And I know that for you it must be even scarier. Call my cell any time. ANY TIME. Yesterday I was able to bike to a State Park, nearly empty except for others local. I watched a Pipevine Swallowtail butterfly. It almost made me cry with relief.”

“I am so very sorry. I know we’ve never met, but I wanted to let you know how very sorry I was to hear this news. It is just devastating. I wish I had the right words to express my sorrow, but I don’t think there are any. Please take care of yourself.”

“That is devastating news and I am so sorry for your loss. My heartfelt condolences goes to you and your family.”

I’ve never met any of the above people in real life – only virtually thanks to our shared connection of work – yet their words and the genuine care and concern within them couldn’t be more “real-life.”

And this text from my boss: “I’m so sorry Jenn. Take the time you need to grieve, cry, scream, whatever you need. It’s horrible what’s happening.”

To hear validation of what I was feeling (because we often don’t talk about the rage that accompanies grief) was important – it somehow made it so that I could really exhale and go through everything I was feeling without feeling guilt or fear. That’s crucial to healing and moving on.

And, in case I ever had any doubts about how I’m perceived, several co-workers sent me the video of a squirrel eating peanuts off a little picnic table that someone had attached to a fence.

The point is, I suppose, that nobody can have the right words – so it’s okay if you don’t – but embracing our shared humanity and acknowledging that whatever someone is feeling is real is a tremendous help.

I’d also suggest making a plan for how your team can support one another as we all go through this – acknowledge that some days will be far more difficult than others and that it’s okay to step back. Do it now, so that nobody needs to struggle with feeling as though they cannot allow themselves time to process what they might suddenly find themselves living through.

Please, take care of yourselves and take care of others to the best that you can – reach out for help if you need it – and know that others care, no matter how you’re feeling during moments of despair.

If this post seems unpolished, unedited, and a bit rambling, that’s because it is – I went back and forth with writing it, but thanks to the encouragement from someone else who constantly reminds others that the world is as small or as large/as cruel or as kind as we make it, I decided to hit “publish.”

There isn’t a way to make some things sound beautiful or succinct, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be said; what we’re living through is horrible, and raw, and real – and this is the new normal.

The World Health Organization has a fact sheet on mental health considerations during COVID-19. You can find it HERE.

HR, better.
Employees, happier.
Businesses, healthier.
It’s time to modernize the employee experience.

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