Loss and Grief

Many of us are no stranger to grief and the many forms that it takes. Loss, similarly, is a term that is applied to many different contexts. While traditionally the idea of grief and loss refers to the death of a loved one, the concept can extend far beyond this. Particularly, with today’s uncertainty about when social gatherings and life as we knew it will resume, we are facing losses in many forms. Just as we seem to accept that our kids’ school is now online, or that your upcoming concert has been cancelled, there’s a new wave of cancellations looming even further out.

People are facing the loss of future memories, many that have been planned for months or years, including weddings, graduations, bar and bat mitzvahs, and family vacations. This level of upending daily life is uncharted, and there appears no road map on how to navigate the complex emotions we experience as we cross off theses joyous events we have been looking forward to for a long time.

Yet, many of us have navigated grief before, through the loss of a loved one. In her memoir on the experience of losing her daughter, The Year of Magical Thinking, author and journalist Joan Didion perhaps put it best, “A single person is missing for you, and the whole world is empty.” That’s often the hardest part of grief – it can feel like such a singular experience. It was your wedding, not the whole world’s. Grief is singular in it experience, and yet, it can bring wholesale destruction of everyday life, as we are all experiencing collectively. This is a dialectic – we are both alone in our grief and we belong in a common space among humanity.

The stages of grief, as outlined in Elizabeth Kübler-Ross’s landmark work On Death and Dying, may not be the perfectly clean road map many of us are looking for as we try to wade these muddy waters. They provide a starting place, however, to begin understanding that there is pain in non-mortal losses, and it can be complex and long-lasting if not tended to. The stages in order are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Kübler-Ross does not propose that these stages appear cleanly in that order, or that there’s even so much an order as there is a cycle. These elements of grief are applicable in their own right.

We must make space in our private experience of grief over the losses that we are facing to explore the anger, sadness, and isolation we feel as a result. We must acknowledge that even in the dialectic of the shared experience – perhaps now more than ever – we still tend to the singular nature of our loss as well. It is natural to want to invalidate your pain right now; it would be so easy to brush it off an say that everyone else, too, is going through a difficult time. We risk not healing from this experience and truly growing if we cannot first acknowledge. Together, we will move forward, and alone, we will grow ever so taller.