By Erica Sonnabend
Like so many of you, I have been thrust almost instantly into a new way of living, working and communicating with my family and friends. Although I’ve always considered myself to be a very adaptable and flexible person, changing nearly everything all at once due to the pandemic has made me question that.
Within a matter of days, all of my normal routines ceased to exist and my days of welcoming visitors to my home and gathering with loved ones stopped. My world seemed to shrink and I was left feeling fearful, uneasy, disconnected and vulnerable in ways that I never had before. I was weepy, quick to snap at others, manically keeping busy with home projects and not sleeping well. In my mind, I determined this was expected behavior given all that our world and our communities were going through. I just needed to ride it out.
Not only was I experiencing the loss of my sense of normalcy and safety, my heart was hurting for those around me who had died, were sick or had lost their jobs or businesses. I wasn’t feeling all of this on the “usual” level that I would expect to feel about such terribly sad things, these feelings were ENORMOUS.
What I later came to realize is that through all of the news reports, zoom calls, sanitizing and home quarantining, an uninvited guest had shown up. There it was…GRIEF…amplifying my emotions and my actions. It was grief for my new losses during quarantine and resurfaced grief from previous loss events.
Grief is normal and natural, but it doesn’t always look and feel the way you think it will. It’s sneaky. It disguises itself as many things – exhaustion, irritability, excessive behaviors, keeping super busy, forgetfulness and many more. Our various losses and our history with grief will show up unannounced and affect our current lives if left unresolved.
Around week five of my ten week quarantine, I discovered the root of my intense feelings. This happened when I opened my kitchen cabinet to start making lunch for my two school-aged children. Yes, you read that correctly. I connected to my grief when I opened my kitchen cabinet. Looking at the well stocked canned goods brought me back to a time in my life that I hadn’t thought of in decades.
When I was in middle school, my father moved about two and a half hours away from me. That distance felt like he was on another planet. It was a long, monotonous bus ride and then a thirty-minute car ride away from the beauty and comforts of my home on Cape Cod. At home, I was surrounded by extended family and connected to close friends in an awesome neighborhood.
While visiting my dad, who I adored, I was sleeping in a space that wasn’t mine and spent most Saturdays at his house alone because he’d have to work. My dad lived in a second-floor apartment in what used to be a single-family home. It was always very clean, but it had a makeshift kitchen with bookshelves used as a pantry…filled with canned goods. I had some many questions about why my parents divorced, but I could not get them to come out of my mouth. I felt an incredible loss of normalcy, routine, companionship and familiarity. Among other things, I was anxious and bored on those Saturdays and I missed my friends.
As I stood in my kitchen, decades later amid a pandemic, staring at the aluminum cans in my cabinet, my grief from long ago became obvious to me. Just like that. After weeks of pacing in circles to pass the time, full of anxiety about the unknown, grief had resurfaced. This time of great change and uncertainty connected me to the losses I experienced when I was about the same age as my one of my kids that I was making lunch for. Coincidence? I don’t believe so.
When I allowed my heart to go back to that time, a whole range of unexpressed emotions came to light. These were thoughts and feelings that I had back then plus some new ones from my adult perspective. Those buried feelings and undelivered communications were my unresolved grief. This discovery showed me exactly how unexpressed grief can evolve and resurface in different ways in our lives – especially during a pandemic.
It is important to remember that loss is not solely connected to the death of someone we care about.
Loss occurs in all kinds of situations. You can feel it when relationships end, when changes in health or financial stability occur or when any event that brings physical or emotional impact happens. Loss can be tangible (people or things) or intangible (sense of safety, relationships with money, loss of health).
After finding my own unresolved grief hiding in my kitchen cabinet, I knew I had some work to do to free myself from the pain of my past losses. Taking action through grief work and participating in my own emotional healing has led me to better understand my current losses. What a difference that has made in my daily life!
As you continue on your own path, weathering the ups and downs of losses in your life, I encourage you to pause and allow yourself to truly connect to the changes you’re experiencing. Let your emotions come up and out. Be mindful of what unresolved grief looks and feels like in your heart. And always show love and compassion to yourself when grief resurfaces during these very uncertain times.
Take care, friends.