This is Part 3 of a series – click here to read other Parts!
Loss in the Time of COVID:
The Lingering Pain of Obstructed Grief,
and How to Redeem It
When the pandemic first hit the U.S. in Spring 2020, I resolved to face it with an attitude of resilience, courage, and hope. I focused intently on reaching out to friends, family, coworkers, and strangers, trying to infuse humor and encouragement into every interaction, meeting stories of loneliness and hardship with an open heart. It felt good to take on that role, and it came naturally to me. Until I found out a friend of mine was dying.
In June 2020, COVID killed my friend, Marny. She’d been in the hospital, fighting the virus for months as she recovered from surgery. She was 31. Now I found myself fighting to stay resilient, courageous, hopeful, to muster any humor, encouragement, or an open heart. Suddenly, every day was a genuine struggle.
Like so many of us during the pandemic, her loved ones had to watch from a distance as their beloved Marny declined. Then, like so many families, all her family could manage right after she passed on was a small, intimate memorial. A year later they were able to hold a somewhat bigger gathering, but I and many others still weren’t able to be there. So on top of the devastation of her death, we all had to endure a short-circuited grieving process. For my own part, I grieved alone instead, crying in my car many times.
Millions – maybe billions – of people now have stories just like this, and many more have now heard these stories. We’ve felt the heartbreak of loss, then felt it compounded by the heartbreak of irresolution.
Without ceremony, our grief has been stymied and scattered, splintered and surreal. Without a capstone experience like a memorial or funeral, an essential mile-marker is missing on our life pathway, leaving us with a chronic, low-grade feeling of lost-ness and incompleteness. This is true of other ceremonies we missed too, like graduations, births, weddings, and important birthdays and holidays. We need these sacred contexts to help us acknowledge significant changes, to give important events the honor they deserve. To live well, we need ceremony.
Over time, the experience of obstructed grief for Marny has kindled a new resolution and passion in me. Given the magnitude of pain from the Pandemic Era and the gravity of the transition to the Recovery Era, to live well in the years to come, we need to give the past few years the ceremony they deserve.
The pandemic itself needs a kind of funeral and mourning period. And we need a graduation of sorts too, an ushering in of recovery. This is our gateway to finding our passion once again.
As far as a template for such a ceremony, you can simply work through this ebook alongside others – as a Recovery Era book club or Post-Pandemic Experience (PPE), if you will! Whatever you decide to do, I hope you put what sticks with you from these Lessons from the Pandemic to good use, and share it with folks you know.
At the time of this writing, I’m also developing what might be the first-ever comprehensive, practical, easily-accessible online courses for helping people process grief – Guide for the Grief Journey: Ten Touchstones – and pursue their passion – Soul Sagas: Finding Our True Callings in Our Life Stories. Subscribe to the InVocation blog for updates on these.
We’ve missed so many memorials these last few years – we can’t afford to miss this one. Not just because the un-metabolized, sublimated trauma will continue to plague us, and someday ambush us. But because we need to seize the amazing opportunity presented by the Pandemic Era: this is the first time in the hundred years since the last pandemic that everyone on planet Earth has endured a relatively similar hardship.
We’ve never had such fertile ground for a global conversation about how to grieve well, a global conversation about how inspire passion, a global healing and unifying process. After being thrashed by the upheaval of the pandemic, we could now right ourselves, and write a new chapter of history.
Ceremonies won’t fix all our post-pandemic problems, but they are vital to a resilient, courageous, hopeful future. I still feel the pain of losing Marny, and the rest of the many millions killed by COVID. I still feel my obstructed grief for her, for them, and for all of us still mourning. But I’ve found that advocating for Transition Ceremonies and this Roadmap to Recovery is helping me honor Marny's memory, carry her unshakable, joyful fighting-spirit forward, and redeem that pain and grief. I hope that by joining me in this work, you too can find redemption. And I hope we can invite the rest of the world into the same.
In summary, to use our terminology from the previous article:
Transition Ceremonies can be the pivot point – from Pandemic Era to Recovery Era, from Greater Resignation to Greater Reengagement and Reimagination – helping us move through our pain and grief into redemption and passion.
Now that we can better hold our history and stories in perspective, we turn back to the question: What do we do about all of this? What tangible, concrete steps can we all take? What are the ingredients that go into a Recovery Era, Greater Reengagement and Reimagination, moving through, and Transitional Ceremonies?
Stay tuned for Part 4: The Need for Catharsis!
If you’re looking for some practical insights before then, check out the Lessons from the Pandemic Hub on my website. And if you’re looking for ways to help the Recovery, Reengagement, and Reimagination effort ASAP, share that Hub page and share this blog with people you know, especially if they’re struggling with these things or are a leader who can make a difference in your community.