Over the years I have spent much time studying, walking with people through, and experiencing grief personally. Grief is universal. Everyone experiences grief at some time or another. And while we think of it primarily when someone we care about dies, we also experience it over a lost job or opportunity, the diminishment of a physical ability, a relocation, graduation, divorce or even a change of vehicles. Anytime we feel that we have lost or perceived a loss of something physical or emotional we grieve. Grieving is a God-given, healthy response to a significant change in our lives. And no one likes to do it! Especially in our discomfort-avoidant society we want to zip through it as fast as possible, if we even allow ourselves to acknowledge it at all. We do have a choice to deal with it sooner or later (sooner is always better) we do not ever get to opt out. While our culture currently only allows us a few days of grief (for most losses) to a week or so (for the loss of a partner, child or spouse) the vast majority do not even begin the process by that time. The most common question I get is, “How long will this last?” and the answer is unfortunately as long as it takes.
Elizabeth Kubler Ross’s five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance can be helpful in navigating through it. However we rarely, if ever, experience them in a nice neat orderly fashion but rather in a series of chaotic loops that we cycle in and out of. In subsequent years another stage was added, which we can only experience in hindsight when we are able to reflect on the journey of the other five. It is meaning making.
So why am I talking about grief now? It is a subject that everyone wants to understand but no one wants to talk about. In fact if you have made it this far in the article I commend you! Countless times I have been implored by churches to lead programs on death and dying only to have only 1 or 2 people show up for them. As the song goes, “We all want to go to heaven but nobody wants to go now.” Even talking about it creeps us out, as if discussion will bring us closer to it.
Well I am talking about it now because whether we acknowledge it or not we are a country in the midst of grieving. Since the outbreak of CoVid 19 we have lost whatever normal was our life. We are mourning that, and thus will cycle through all those stages of grief whether we realize it or not. Just knowing that can help us understand and perhaps have compassion for ourselves and others, as it leaks out as shortness of temper, anger, frustration, and sadness. Grief makes us stupid too. No we are not losing our minds or lapsing into Alzheimer’s as we lose our keys, forget a birthday, or put the dry cereal box in the fridge. Grief is like a program ever running in the background of our lives, sapping us of energy and popping up when we least expect it.
Which brings me to Grief Bombs. The weird thing about grief is that it rarely behaves when and how we expect. I remember attending a funeral shortly after my mother died. I expected to “be a total mess” yet went through it without incident. Only to find myself totally “losing it” two days later at the grocery store as I picked up a head of broccoli. I had unwittingly stepped on a grief bomb. Like hidden landmines they strike without warning and stop us in our tracks as a cloud of sadness and grief engulfs us. I have discovered that if I acknowledge it and offer myself permission to experience it, rather than trying desperately to wave it away, it subsides more quickly. If I am able to simply embrace it as a piece of the healing, understanding that it too shall pass; I am able to receive the benefit it offers. I left my cart and gave myself permission to get broccoli another day.