How do we deal with grief in the middle of a pandemic?

The Grief Box

The COVID pandemic has impacted many areas of our lives in a variety of ways. While everyone’s experiences have not been the same, one shared experience is that everyone is dealing with grief.  Although we are all experiencing grief, it can look and feel different for each of us. Author David Kessler states, “Each person’s grief is as unique as their fingerprint.” Grief can manifest in a variety of ways. There is grief in the loss of a routine, loss of work, or a death of a loved one.  Others are experiencing grief with the loss in ability to gather with friends or gather with their community of faith.  People are grieving a sense of security or loss of personal space. All around us there are students grieving the loss of their in-person classrooms. No matter how grief presents itself, we are collectively in a state of grief.

Kessler says there is something powerful about naming these incidents as grief.  The acknowledgement helps us process the feelings inside us. When it comes to emotions, it is important to name them so that they can be accepted, embraced, and subsequently managed.  Once accepted, one can then find meaning through the grief.

Many will state that they feel “bad for feeling bad” because they recognize that others are hurting, perhaps even worse.  We need to stop minimizing our feelings, and stop the comparison game; it is a trap.  Kessler states in a podcast with Brene’ Brown, “worse loss is always your loss;” loss is still loss.  We have to recognize that there isn’t a hierarchy when it comes to grief and loss.  Everyone handles grief differently, which is why during this pandemic some seem to be flourishing while others are struggling.  Regardless, your feelings are valid and shouldn’t be minimized or compared to others.

An interesting attribute to grief is that can ebb and flow from day to day; even sometimes from hour to hour.  Lauren Herschel shared an analogy she learned from her doctor. The analogy provides clarity regarding how people feel during grief.

Imagine your life is a box and the grief you feel is a ball, and the ball is inside of the box, or your life. Also, inside the box, there is a pain button.

Grief in a box

In the beginning, the grief ball is huge, consuming the vast majority of space in your life.  No matter what you do, you can’t move the box without the ball hitting the pain button.  The ball rattles around on its own in the box and hits the button over and over and over again.  You can’t seem to control it – it just keeps hurting.  Sometimes the grief ball seems unrelenting.

However, with time the ball gets smaller.  The frequency of when the pain button is hit decreases, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the intensity of the pain is not there.  But it does mean that life “feels” better because you can function day to day more easily when the pain is being hit less frequently. Although, one downside is that the ball will still randomly hit the button, especially when you least expect it.

Grief in a box

Christian Neuroscientist and author, Dr. Caroline Leaf, provides some great suggestions on how to deal with grief during this crisis:

  • Recognize it won’t last forever
  • Your feelings are normal, don’t suppress them or feel guilty.
  • Grief is cyclical not a linear process.
  • Talk to someone. You are not alone!
  • Be patient with yourself

As we are all in a state of collective grief, it is important to be aware of our own pain button. Additionally, we need to be cognizant regarding the pain button of others, and the randomness of when it might be pushed.


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