The Complicated Grief and Loss of This Year

Worried black young woman sitting in the living room at home during christmas holiday

You aren’t crazy if you’re feeling like you’re crazy these days! The ongoing stress of our lives in this unprecedented time of confusion and fear caused by the virus that is ravaging our country, the political unrest that has gone on for months and all the all the racial tensions that are another source anxiety, frustration, and turmoil – each is bound to have a profound effect on our minds, brains and our feelings.

In noticing what’s going on in my own inner world and in talking with colleagues and friends, it is clear to me that in addition to all the stresses, most of us are experiencing a great deal of loss and therefore grief. And there are so many losses these days: the loss of a sense of safety, the loss of predictability, and the loss of freedom, to name three essential losses. Experiencing these losses is a formula for trauma. Add to that anyone who has a significant trauma history and they will have their reactions to the current world situation intensified.

Then there is grief that is often associated with holidays. Often holidays are portrayed as these magical times of love, peace and joy. The images we have received of what holidays should be about often don’t match our realities. When that happens, we experience loss and therefore we grieve.

There is a kind of pervasive collective grief going on in the world. The good news about collective grief is that we are sharing it with each other. The bad news is that there is so much grieving going on, it can be hard to feel optimistic or hopeful. We can bounce off each other’s grief, which creates even more sadness and feelings of hopelessness.

Then there is the grief we are each experiencing connected with the holidays. Many of us have had to cancel our plans for gathering as a family. Those of us who celebrate Christmas can feel like we cannot go to our local shopping centers where we have always enjoyed being with others who are sharing in the gift-finding experience, listening to holiday music and enjoying the decorations. Not being able to go out to experience traditional holiday activities means many of us are finding we must remain isolated within our own homes. For some who don’t have family living with them, this can be especially lonely.

Man depression during christmas holiday and new year day

My hope is not to share more discouragement but to acknowledge the realities many of us are facing and perhaps explain why we are feeling sad, depressed, lost and isolated. There is a certain relief in knowing there are legitimate reasons for difficult feelings and that we are not alone in experiencing these.

In addition to acknowledging these grief-related feelings, we also can think about ways to reduce some of the sadness by being intentional in considering the many ways we are blessed: the fact that most of us have a roof over our heads, can stay connected with family and friends through emails, Facebook and Zoom as well as good old-fashioned phone calls as opposed to postings on social media where people put their best foot forward and don’t share some of the struggles they are having.

There is neuroscience that validates how healing altruism can be one of the things we can do to consider ways to care for others. I have a friend who regularly writes handwritten notes to people who are important in her life. It is a special treat to open a friendly card and spend a few minutes reading what a friend wants to share. It inspires me to think of people I can send notes to.

Some of us we can be more intentional about praying for those we love, asking that God intervene when there are struggles and putting trust in His ultimate authority in the world.

In whatever ways you bring yourself comfort, peace and, whenever possible, joy, you can take charge of those things over which you have some power. You can accept that we are in a time of crisis that is resulting in a lot of sadness and grief. We all can be thankful that the best minds in the world are working hard to produce a vaccine that will hopefully free us from the tyranny of the virus. We can experience some degree of relief that the political turmoil of recent months appears to be over and we can hope and pray that calmness will prevail. We can read, reflect and actively response to the racial tensions that exist in our world, taking appropriate responsibility for actions that can contribute to reparations, justice and healing.

So please claim your power even as you acknowledge the losses you are experiencing this holiday season. Be aware of those around you who could benefit from opportunities just to share what’s going on for them. Offer acceptance and comfort.

Throughout all this help the children in your life learn more about how we can all come together to support each other in times of crisis and sadness.

  Invitation for Reflection:

  1. Notice how you are feeling as the holidays surround us with an undercurrent of stress, confusion, anxiety and loss.
  2. Acknowledge the realities of those feelings and give yourself credit for being able to recognize them.
  3. Consider ways you can address your grief that include embracing it as well as thinking of ways to express it and then help to reduce it.
  4. Think about ways you can model for the children in your life healthy ways to deal with all that is going on in our world and provide them the support they need as they experience their own sense of loss and grief.

Diane Wagenhals, Director, Lakeside Global Institute