Later loss hovers over our city, and we grieve at the loss of loved ones and fear for our own lives. All too many of us live alone and face coming months of loneliness and isolation at death’s door; others have children home from school and are trying to balance their children’s care and education with their own fears of death, leaving a child behind. How trauma will mark the young and the unborn is especially worrying.
Many couples have tough relationship issues at the best of times marked by abuse and fear made far worse by isolation, while others lack the basic security of a roof over their head and a place to self-isolate. You can imagine an obsessive-compulsive germaphobe or one given to paranoia or anxiety attacks at this time. Death deeply affects our sense of the world, even under the most positive or normal circumstances. The world seems for a time less safe, less benevolent, and less predictable. Grief takes ever more progressive forms and hurts body and spirit at once. As the filmmaker Fassbinder had it in a title, “Fear Eats the Soul”.
Grief has types and stages. Like any progressive illness, it is best to work with it early regardless of the fearful circumstances of our times. Anticipatory grief is that feeling we get about what the future holds when we’re uncertain. Usually, it centers on death. We feel it when someone gets a dire diagnosis. Typically, there is time to prepare, help the dying go through the process, and then join others in mourning, coping, and planning a life in response to an impending loss that death brings. If properly managed, that grieving process has a closure aided by a formal gathering, rituals, and great care and honor to the physical remnants of the departed, and various other rituals that varied cultures promote to instruct and heal the living while guiding the soul of the disease to the other world by communal and healing faith. (Allard, Genest, & Legault, 2020).
But in a time of a pandemic, especially of a new and unpredictable disease like CORONAVIRUS-19, feelings are amplified and can become very damaging to our long-term psychological and physical health. When an individual becomes infected or spreads illness to others, especially by disobeying social distancing rules, feelings of blame, anger, and sadness may lead inevitably to mental and physical reverses with ominous implications. Prolonged grief disorder (PGD) is a real danger, and is associated with deeply damaging emotional pain that did not heal in time, often guilt, an inability to accept the death of the loved one, a sense of meaninglessness of life, and the groundlessness of existence, melancholia and bitterness about the circumstances and difficulty in engaging in new activities and thereby moving on (Lund, 2020).
Disenfranchised grief occurs when families are unable to grieve with normal practices of social support and rituals in burial and funeral services. As grief continues to linger, we may become more likely to slide into a deep, profound depression. Day after day, we are unmotivated to perform any task and would rather not interact with the people, even those we were once close to. In the worst cases of depression, the individual suffering staggering losses will turn to thoughts of suicide. (Barney & Yoshimura, 2020).
Changes to end-of-life practices and the management of grief in such traumatic times, as how the dying and their families prepare and face these events will be the subject of future postings. It may be time for now to walk through Kubler-Ross’ famous stages of grieving and the toil they take upon you to see if the process may be better managed, both for your own sake and that of others near you.
Understanding the stages of grief is where we start. There’s denial, which was said: This virus won’t affect us. There’s anger: it’s a man-made plot, it’s the Chinese. There’s bargaining: Okay, if I really isolate, wear a mask, wash my hands, not touch my face, social distance in all my activities everything will be all right. Right? There’s sadness and a terrifying feeling of abandonment, isolation, and sadness. The road to acceptance and closure now seems impossible, and we are stuck where a variety of morbid psychological and social symptoms manifest. You need to anticipate, prepare, and be very brave. Wars and holocausts have survivors among us. They will show us the way.
Where we go from here comes in my next posting.
Allard, E., Genest, C., & Legault, A. (2020). Theoretical and philosophical assumptions behind the concept of anticipatory grief. International Journal of Palliative Nursing, 26(2), 56-63.
Barney, K. A., & Yoshimura, S. M. (2020). Death-Related Grief and Disenfranchised Identity: A Communication Approach. Review of Communication Research, 8, 78-95.
Kübler-Ross, E., & Kessler, D. (2005). On grief and grieving: Finding the meaning of grief through the five stages of loss. Simon and Schuster.
Lund, P. C. (2020). Deconstructing grief: a sociological analysis of Prolonged Grief Disorder.Social Theory & Health, 1-15.