Crying for Strangers

Posted by on May 15, 2020 in Uncategorized | 4 comments

a gray winter sky, trees with no leaves
The gray days of winter are part of life

Each night, my partner and I watch the World News. During the interviews with the bereaved, nurses, doctors, or others working in hospitals, I cry.

Well-meaning friends and family invariably suggest I stop watching the news if it makes me cry, but I’ve found that it’s helping me process the big emotions of our time. Everyone I know is suffering some level of anxiety, fear, or grief. It would be so easy to slide down that slippery slope that leads to a pit of depression.

Taking a few moments each day to cry for strangers feels right.

One of the most human conditions is that of grief. We all know it. We all understand and can relate to how it feels to lose a loved one. Sharing the grief of so many people who are suffering now is one way I can feel more connected to my fellow-humans.

The few moments of grief each evening is, for me, a self-care tool. You’re probably reading about how important it is to exercise, to practice good hygiene, and to take care of yourself during these turbulent times. The website of the National Association of Social Workers has a section on self-care during a pandemic. It recommends self-reflection, staying connected with colleagues and friends, and finding ways to take part in social justice work, among others.

In the face of advice on self-care, you might feel like you need to put on a happy face and maintain a positive attitude.

But is suppressing grief really a good idea? If you’ve ever tried to fake-it-until-you-make-it through trauma, you might have found that squishing the pain down isn’t so helpful. My mother passed away when I was in high school. One of the first things that struck me was that the world just continued spinning, which seemed like a grave injustice. Eventually, I fell back into all the routines of high school, and pretended everything was fine. About a year later, I found myself battling suicidal ideation, and taking unnecessary (and out-of-character) risks. Looking back, I can see clearly how my failure to deal with the grief and trauma of losing my mom led to the depression later.

My nightly grief is, I hope, helping me to process all the pain of this pandemic now, so that I don’t need to revisit it.

If you’re feeling the weight of grief on your chest, and you keep shaking it off by going for a run or baking another loaf of bread, consider exploring it. You may just find that working through the grief leaves more room for love.

Grief.com is a website founded by one of the world’s foremost experts on grief, David Kessler. You may have seen the recently published essay That Discomfort You’re Feeling Is Grief published by Harvard Business Review, that contains an interview with Kessler where he talks about the types of grief we’re all feeling right now. In the FAQs section on grief.com, one question is, “Why not just avoid grief?”

“We think we want to avoid grief, but really it is the pain of the loss we want to avoid. Grief is the healing process that ultimately brings us comfort in our pain,” is the answer Kessler gives.

After I cry for a few minutes, I wipe my eyes, and turn my attention to dinner, or my garden, or my pets. It’s important not to linger in the grief. Acknowledge it, honor it. Feel it. Allow yourself to mourn for that which others have lost.

Then, tie up your running shoes, check on your dough, or spend some time in your garden, and remember this isn’t the first pandemic humanity has faced, and yet we’re here. This, too, shall pass.

a bright blue sky with white puffy clouds, trees with leaves and a green field
But the bright days of summer return

4 Comments

  1. Dava, this so beautiful, and so insightful. I am terrified I’ll inadvertently bring home the virus to my 97-year-old mother and worse, that I would lose her in a hospital without her family near. It is one of her greatest fears.

    I admit, I am one who has stopped watching the news (mostly) because it can so overwhelm me. If I do, it’s ABC World News because they always end with a good story. And I find that is the hope I need.

    Stay safe, Dava!

    • The news is overwhelming! I don’t blame anyone who finds they have to step away from it. Facebook has been the thing I’ve needed to step away from most often, and sometimes Twitter.

      Thanks for your kind words, and I wish you and your mom continued good health — and that you continue to hear the good stories and hope!

  2. I’m working on a site for collective grief, because I feel that’s one of the things we’re missing that would help us get through this.

    • Yes. I think that grief is an emotion that even very emotionally aware people struggle to acknowledge. Simply recognizing that you’re grieving, and why, can be very helpful.

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