By Ginny Schaeffer, Director of the Angela Merici Center for Spirituality
Spring has been in all its glory these last few weeks. As I have gone for my daily walks, I have relished how brilliantly white the Dogwood blooms have been and, when it has not been raining, how blue the skies are. Tulips and azaleas have shown off in their coats of many colors and jonquils have stood straight and proud with their yellow crowns. It has been a glorious spring in Kentucky; but, as the old cliché goes, “Looks can be deceiving.” Just beyond the extravaganza that has been this spring there is a reality more surreal then any I could imagine.
So much loss and grief. More people have died in the U. S. in the last three months then all the Americans killed in Vietnam over a twenty-year period. Those in the know tell us that the unemployment rate is likely to rival that of the Great Depression and we have the food lines to prove it. Families are separated from one another to protect us all – no birthday or anniversary parties, no grand weddings or receptions, no coming over to hold the new baby, not even gathering around a loved ones bed to say good-bye and certainly no wakes or funerals to share stories, laughter and tears.
In three short months our lives have been stripped down to the essentials – home, work and grocery. Our losses are many and range from the profound to the everyday. Our grief is both collective and individual.
Like me, you may have experienced a variety of feelings over these past seven to eight weeks of physical isolation, everything from anxiety to relief that we made it through another day without any COVID-19 symptoms. It was not until I woke up the other morning grumpy, irritable and itching for an argument that I realized that something else was going on.
I tried to shake what I was feeling by going on about my business, but the feelings persisted. I had no reason to feel so out-of-sorts, no recent disagreements or beef with anyone. Just the opposite, I had many reasons to be grateful. It was not until the next morning while I was sitting quietly that I realized that the source of my irritability was, of course, anger. As I followed that thread down into my heart, I was finally able to discern that what I was really experiencing was grief.
Yet, what reason did I have to grieve? I had not lost anyone. I am healthy and so is my family. I am still employed; still have work that is meaningful. I have a house in which to shelter, where I can be safe and warm. There’s food on my table and technology to keep me connected to those I love. It did not make sense.
That is the funny thing about feelings; they do not have to make sense. They just are.
So what losses am I grieving? There are the simple things I took for granted like sitting in
a darkened movie theatre, munching on popcorn and enjoying a good story or having a dinner out with friends, catching up and laughing until we cry or meandering through a bookstore until I find just the right book and, of course, handshakes and hugs.
I think the things I miss the most are my illusions. I believed I had more control over my life than I actually do. I thought that my way of life was safe and secure and certainly would never be threatened by a microscopic force of nature. I trusted in our federal government that, when push came to shove, our leaders would do the right things. I have even had to let go of some old and well-entrenched beliefs about God.
I also realize that my grief is communal. Like you, I have watched the nightly news and found tears burning behind my eyes as I witnessed bodies being loaded into refrigerated trucks, saw the numbers of the unemployed, the infected and the dead grow exponentially and listened to the heartache of health care providers.
I understand that the losses I have gotten in touch with these last few days are nothing, absolutely nothing compared to losing a loved one and, still they are losses and need to be grieved and let go.
We are a world, a country and a people in mourning. There will come a time when we will need to grieve collectively; but, for now, let’s tend to our individual grief. When the tears burn behind your eyes, let them flow. When the irritability and anger appear for no known reason just let yourself be with it and invite it to speak to you. Grief is meant to be shared. Tell someone you can trust, who will honor and respect what you are feeling, what you are experiencing. Journal. Walk. Care for yourself the way you would care for the person you love the most. Remember, too, that the same God who told Moses, “I see the suffering of my people” sees our suffering as well, is with us to love and bring us to wholeness and holds us as a mother holds her young child.