Chances Are You're Grieving Something


From this pandemic, every one of us has experienced some kind of loss or something that feels taken away. It could be a person, an activity, an event, an opportunity or even conceptual things like a sense of safety or normalcy.

When I worked for hospice, it was routine to follow up with a phonecall to the family after a patient’s death. In these condolence calls, I would caution that it was going to be the little things that would trigger their grief. You’ll be in the supermarket and see that hamburgers are on sale and remember all the times you grilled out with that person. Or you’ll remember that they were particularly frugal and loved a good discount. Next thing you know, you’re crying in the meat aisle.

Another caution I would share was about a cycle of emotions that can occur when living in your new reality after loss. I learned this long ago from a grief training by Kenneth Doka. An example was given of a wife whose recently deceased spouse was always the one to manage the finances. The first time she did this on her own, she felt a small sense of accomplishment and pride. Later, this feeling was replaced with anger, sadness, and a feeling that it wasn’t fair – she was having to manage finances because he was gone.

In a recent group I attended, someone appropriately referred to this time now as “Season Two”. Season Two of a series none of us particularly wants to watch or be a part of. But Season Two is different than Season One. We have more information now. We have vaccines. We also have new struggles and new unknowns. We have accumulated loss and baggage from the last year. We are not returning to our old familiar lives, we instead enter new terrain with losses which we haven’t even had time to fully process.

We are going to have our “balancing the checkbook” moments. Moments where we feel proud that we problem solved how to have a gathering safely, but later feel sad or angry that the gathering had to look so different. The experience of gathering may be followed by grief for the many missed opportunities of the last year.

We are going to have our “meat aisle moments”. I still can’t watch scenes in shows or movies where people are in crowded settings and not shudder to think of all the droplets exchanged. That thought is followed by the question - Will I ever find myself in those situations again without worry? Then I grieve that freedom I once had, the privilege to roam the world not thinking about the air I shared with others.

As Daniel Siegel puts it, “feeling deep emotion is our way of processing important information”. Emotions are our bodies way of telling us something is happening. A lot has happened to us in the last two years. A lot will continue to happen.

We continue to live with uncertainty, something this article shared by my colleague reminded me that our brains really struggle with. Sometimes the comfort of certainty can come just from knowing that what you are feeling is to be expected, that those “meat aisle” or “check book” moments were likely to happen. It doesn’t mean we like it, or that we asked for it, but we knew it was coming and was normal. We can remember the other things we know to be true. That grief is deserved for any kind of loss. That we have the ability to care for and speak kindly to ourselves during times of adversity. That we have survived this far and that is good enough of an accomplishment within itself.

One day on a condolence call, I was sharing that advice about the “little things” and how grief will pop-up, for example, in the grocery store. This particularly insightful family member responded by agreeing, “Well sure, that makes sense, because isn’t that what life is made up of? All of these little moments?”.

Our little moments have been overshadowed by unprecedented world events.

A supervisor once taught me an exercise called the 100 Things I Love list. When you sit down and try to list out 100 things you love or enjoy, you start to get really specific. For example, it’s not just cheese I love, but when cheese gets brown and bubbly on top of a pizza. Or when I step outside on a summer morning and the sun hits my skin but it’s followed by a cool morning breeze.

Many things have been taken away from us and we have the right to grieve them. But when we think of one loss, our brains tend to go to familiar territory of other losses, and soon it is all we see. It is not minimizing, it is not denying, to allow ourselves space to think of these small moments. To remember them, to recreate them, to savor them. In the midst of sadness and hardship, these moments can also be true. I encourage you to give the exercise a try, with the warning that some grief may come up in the process. This is also a great activity to do with friends or family. If you don't feel like writing them down, just go back and forth sharing and see how far you get.


About Author

Katie Seavey Pegoraro

Sr Associate Work Life Program Manager

Katie Seavey Pegoraro supports employees with issues of stress and balance, providing tools and resources to cope when life feels overwhelming. Katie is a contact for those who may be coping with issues of mental health, substance use, or grief and loss. A young professional herself, Katie is a unique support to employees who are navigating the many life transitions that occur in your 20's and 30's.

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