• Julia Forberg, MA, MFT

Our Collective Grief

Here we are, in the midst of an unprecedented global pandemic. The shelter in place order has just been extended through the end of May in San Francisco, and we do not know what the future holds. The looming threat is an invisible one, and the necessary remedy is to remain in our homes (if we’re lucky enough to have one, and a safe one at that) and avoid other people.

Many are risking their lives as healthcare and essential workers, and many need to continue leaving their homes for work to stay afloat. Yet, as work and social activities move online, and you’re fortunate enough to be healthy and work from home, for some, it may seem as if life is expected to go on as normal.

A necessary coping strategy is to create a “new normal.” But let’s remember that this time is not normal. And it’s natural to not be able to go on as if this were normal.

You may be feeling all kinds of undesirable feelings right now: fear, sadness, anger, exhaustion, annoyance, frustration, terror, numbness. It’s also normal to feel joy, relief, pleasure, and gratitude. All of this can exist at the same time, and change moment by moment.

In particular, if you’re feeling exhausted, tearful, having trouble sleeping or focusing, you may be grieving. Grief isn’t just felt when someone we love dies, though for many that’s a reality right now.

Take a moment to reflect on how much we have lost already. Human lives, livelihoods, plans, routines, graduations, wedding ceremonies, faith in a competent government, human connection and touch…

Loss is an unfortunate and inevitable part of life. We cannot escape loss; thus, we cannot escape grief.

People often avoid talking about grief because it makes them and others feel helpless. However, grief cannot be fixed. Grief is a normal human response to loss, and needs to be honored and acknowledged in order to be released. We transcend grief by accepting grief.

Below are a few ways you can start working with grief and other feelings you may be having. These will help you open up to your experience, but won’t take your grief away. With time, patience, and gentleness, you can start feeling more grounded and trusting in working with yourself and all of your feelings throughout this time.

Acknowledge your grief, don’t dismiss it.

You may still have your job and health, and yes many others do not have those right now. But we end up invalidating our feelings when we say “…but at least I have a job,” or “…but others have it so much worse,” and therefore “…I shouldn’t feel this way.” What would it be like if you didn’t dismiss your feelings? It may be true that others are suffering in ways you are not, but suffering isn’t quantifiable, and we end up creating more stress, guilt, and inner conflict when we fight our feelings.

Practice gratitude for what you have as an antidote to distress and grief.

Instead of being at war with yourself, when you open up to your experience without dismissing it, you can also open up to what you do have with gratitude instead. Consider the possibility of holding seemingly contradictory feelings at once. “I’m feeling so much sadness right now, and I’m noticing happiness and gratitude that my family is safe and healthy.”

Connect with your body.

Notice where in your body you feel grief. Is it a heaviness in your belly, or chest? Tightness in your throat? Tension behind your eyes? A numb feeling all over? Use your breath to explore your body sensations, or practice gentle yoga or breathing exercises to work with yourself physically.

Set reasonable expectations for yourself.

Life is dramatically disrupted right now, and you may not as productive as you were before. If you’re feeling tired and overwhelmed, lower your expectations and accept that you won’t be able to accomplish as much as you used to, and that is normal.

Connect with nature.

Nature is resilient and life affirming. Nature is also accepting of sickness, death, and decay. We can take comfort in the natural cycles of death and rebirth through nature. If you can get outside safely, practice mindfulness while sitting next to a tree or a body of water. If it’s not possible to get outside, your houseplants and pets are also great ways to connect with nature.

Work with taking care of basic, immediate needs first.

If you’re anxious about necessary and practical needs, it’s understandably difficult to make space for mourning and sadness. Be aware that grief is present, but you might not have psychic space to process it right now. And that’s okay.

Know that you are not alone.

The world is grieving with you right now. We may be in different boats, but right now we’re all in the same ocean. Be gentle with yourself.

To learn more about Julia Forberg visit juliaforberg.com or call 415-841-2737.


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