Last updated: When grief is a companion: Coping with collective sorrow

When grief is a companion: Coping with collective sorrow


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Death and taxes, they tell us, are the only things you can’t avoid in life. Talk about glossing over the details. These days, grief has become the unavoidable monster in our lives. Yes, it hits everyone in different degrees, but in the wake of COVID-19 grief is a universal, and shared, experience.

And for many of us, it’s one we aren’t equipped to handle on such a large scale.

Grief keeps attacking, you cannot die from it, and sometimes it feels you cannot live with it. Grief sucks the color out of your days and the music out of the wind, abandoning you in a wasteland of deafening silence and endless gray.

“Aren’t all these notes the senseless writings of a man who won’t accept the fact that there is nothing we can do with suffering except to suffer it?”  — C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed

Society teaches us that there are limits to grieving, approved timelines and durationsacceptable clothing and activity options, and a scale of what is worthy of grief.

How far along were you? 

How old was the deceased?
They had a long life and all that.

Acquaintance? Celebrity?
How well did you know them? 

But was it immediate family? 

A pet?
It’s not like it’s a real child.

A job?
Just move on.

A breakup?
Couldn’t have been that serious.

A dream?
Get over it.

When did grief stop belonging to the person experiencing it?

The need to provide answers and create tidy boxes for every last thing is unhelpful at best and heart-shattering at worst. Grief cannot be rushed, quieted, or avoided.

It manifests physically, mimicking symptoms of anxietyor even a heart attack. It leads to fatigue, extreme thirst, and mental fogginess.

No one would begrudge your exhaustion after running a 10k, but people are quick to dismiss fatigue during mourning. Perhaps it’s our general unease with sorrow. We don’t want it to get too close. Please don’t come for me. Shoo away the raw emotion, push it out of sight.

Eric Clapton wrote two songs for his 4-year-old son who died in a tragic accident, and he won 3 Grammys for the first. Pain is enthralling when portrayed in a movie or experienced by someone at a distance; we are like moths to a flame.

We sing along; we shake our heads and let tears fall. We seek out novels and movies that leave us undone, but the when it comes to our friends with preemies who never come home, colleagues with children lost to opioids or gun violence, we slink away, or freeze, unsure what to say.

How to distinguish between grief and depression

Depression and grief share many traits. And while both deserve compassion and grace, they aren’t the same thing. How do you distinguish the two?

Symptoms of grief:

  1. Despair and sadness
  2. Lethargy
  3. Tears
  4. Lack of hunger
  5. Sleeplessness
  6. Trouble concentrating
  7. High and low emotions
  8. Guilt

Symptoms of depression:

  1. Worthlessness
  2. Excessive guilt
  3. Suicidal ideation
  4. Low self-esteem
  5. Futility
  6. Helplessness
  7. Anxiety
  8. Listlessness

Emotions of gratitude and happiness compensate for the pain of grief, while with depression, there is nothing but hollowness and sorrow. Understanding the root of your pain can make surviving it more manageable.

There are resources for depression, as well as for grief.

Grief Comes for Us All

Grief will come for each of us in different ways and at different times. Some of us will be touched by grief early and often, while others will live uninitiated late into their lives.

Our experiences with grief will vary; each death or ending is unique and happens to us at a different point in our lives, there is no right or wrong, there is the weight or the weightlessness. We have the pain of today, the memory of yesterday, and the butterflies of tomorrow and the fear that the pain will continue, or worse, that it will end.

“My heart has joined the Thousand, for my friend stopped running today.” — Richard Adams, Watership Down

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