I have been thinking about loss and grief a lot lately. Too much, if I’m being honest, but in my defense, the circumstances of our world and community lend themselves to these kinds of thoughts. When I add in my own personal and professional experiences to the mix of our nation, well, it is no surprise that loss and grief are on my mind.
For over 10 months, our lives have been completely turned upside down, and we each are experiencing our own loss and grief. We have lost jobs, school, hugs, relationships, social connections, sports, graduations, weddings, and funerals. We have lost the ability to gather spontaneously with family, drop by the library, and grab a quick bite to eat with a friend. Every activity requires planning, coordination and a mental calculation on risks and benefits. We can’t even go to the grocery store without worry and stress. It’s exhausting and occasionally infuriating.
Our patients, staff and volunteers at the Oasis Free Clinics have all described a surreal feeling of disorientation since the pandemic started. Our medical providers spend a lot of time with our patients talking about the additional stress that they are experiencing as well ambiguous loss and grief. For most, the issue isn’t grieving of the death of a loved one, but a global, pervasive sense of loss connected to changes in daily routines, changes in relationships, missing out on planned celebrations, and being physically separated from friends and family. We as society have lost the rituals that we traditionally use to mark the transitions of life, and we are being left to grieve apart at a time when we need to be together the most.
This winter, I lost a parent and an uncle to COVID-19. I know what it feels like to say your final goodbyes while a stranger clad in personal protective equipment holds a telephone to your loved one and what it feels like to have that person leave this earth while unfinished business remains. I am not alone in this, unfortunately. In Maine, as of this writing, 453 people have died with COVID-19 while hundreds of others have passed away from other things, such as cancer or drug overdoses. Rituals like funerals, shivas and memorial celebrations, which often help ease the pain associated with the death of a loved one and allow those left behind to begin healing, are no longer happening. In the absence of these rituals, our ability to grieve and heal are stymied.
At Oasis, we recently lost one of our former patients. Like a lot of the people we serve, she had experienced more than her fair share of adversity. She had grit, though, and she worked hard to overcome the obstacles in the path to her goals. The day she left our practice because she had taken a job with health insurance was bittersweet. It was a sign of how far she had come that she no longer needed our services, but we would miss her. Now she is gone, and the feeling of loss for those who knew her is deep.
It has been said that the only cure for grief is to grieve. During this time, it is important to acknowledge and grieve what has been lost – the big losses, the everyday losses, and those in between. Time helps, as does writing in a journal, going for long walks in the woods with a furry companion, or giving back to others.
It is also important to find meaning, hope, and gratitude in our lives. Staying connected to other people is critical, so be sure to reach out through phone calls, text messages, and video chat. Because there is so much chaos happening right now, try to limit media exposure to no more than twice a day (e.g., checking for updates in the morning and before dinner) and try to avoid engaging with the news before bedtime. Remember the sourdough bread that everyone seemed to be baking last spring? Maybe it’s time to try something new. Merrymeeting Adult Education is offering all kinds of classes, and what better time to learn chair seat weaving or how to start your own podcast than now? And finally, be extra kind to yourself. This is a hard time for everyone. People across the world are sharing this experience with you, and yet this is uniquely yours. Extend the same compassion and gentleness to yourself that you would to someone else. While none of these things will erase the losses we are experiencing, hopefully they will be the first steps forward in easing the individual and collective grief that sits heavy on the hearts and minds of each of us.
If you or someone you know is in crisis, call or text 1-888-568-1112.
Oasis Free Clinics is a non-profit, no-cost primary care medical practice and dental clinic, providing exceptional, patient-centered care to uninsured members of our community. For more information, please call 721-9277 or visit www.OasisFreeClinics.org.