On this past March 23rd, Scott Berinato interviewed the foremost expert on grief, David Kessler, in an article titled: That Discomfort You’re Feeling is Grief. Kessler’s comments hit a public nerve at the unsettling confluence of a simultaneous lack of feeling safe today and lack of a sense of hope for tomorrow. Except for specific accounts in medical and personal journals of the 1918 Spanish Flu, that pandemic is often referred to like a pin inserted on a map. We recall it now as an event fixed securely within the constraints of time; the dangerous memory of two generations previous shielded us from much of its cost.
Yet in the fall of 1918, newspapers from Kelowna, British Columbia to Freetown, Sierra Leone, noted similar societal adjustments to our own. Motion picture houses and theatres, and schools and public gatherings, are closing. The byline in Mobile Alabama on October 8, 1918 read: “Must Quit Kissing!”. And, even given the terrible conditions of being caught upon a New Zealand troop transport ship returning from WWI, a young soldier, well aware of a pandemic onboard, notes in his journal: “This morning we had a lecture for half an hour … and was a most idiotic lecture too. Had no object in it that I could see.” Some things are a constant no matter the condition.
Pandemics teach us about ourselves. Medications have advanced but health systems can be unprepared and fragile. We are more vulnerable than we think. We also witness remarkable displays of moral courage by those who serve at the vanguard against a virus in hospitals and clinics, emergency rooms and intensive care units. Every catastrophe will require essential human beings like these medical professionals. They leave their families and friends in order to serve, and with significant unnecessary risk. There are first responders around the world who place the well-being of others before themselves. Recently in New York at the Jacobi Medical Center in the Bronx, and hospitals across the world, these medical personnel arrive and serve under duress, and increasingly thousands of volunteers are signing up to join their colleagues, or provide resources, in order to press forward. As states require more assistance, governors are learning to lean into their constitutional rights with a blundering response from the current president of the United States.
Grief makes us deeply uncomfortable, notes Kessler. Loss of life, loss of loved ones, loss of a job, loss of normalcy; we grieve as individuals and as a collective. Today we do not grieve alone. This is perhaps why so many people, following the Berinato article, are talking about grief this week, and acting for the shared good. Grieving takes courage. It allows us to go deep and work creatively with renewed sensitivity to colleagues. It enables us to assume something of the interior experience of others around us. It cultivates both determination and surrender within the same moment. It accompanies loss and runs deep whenever we remember who and what we loved.
It also helps us to remember that each of us has a role to play alongside social distancing, which appears to be today’s global byline. We require a resilient capacity for spiritual and reflective proximity – to ourselves, to our loved ones, to those in our communities, to those we’ll never meet. Grief will be a force that teaches us how to get through this together because in the face of the horrible we can aim not to be separate, even as we are apart.
The Religica platform and team continues to work toward developing resources and content that aim to assist in the weeks and months ahead. We are rooting for a shared future with you as we cherish the efforts of so many around the world. If you would like to contribute your own reflections through written blog or video, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
How are you experiencing grief during this pandemic? What are you learning about yourself or and others at this time?
Grief won’t be cancelled. Even as people are separated grief requires that we respond. How are you helping yourself or others to deal with grief during the pandemic?
Michael Reid Trice
Michael Reid Trice is co-founder of Religica, is the Spehar-Halligan Associate Professor for Constructive Theology, and serves as the Director of the Center for Religious Wisdom & World Affairs at the School of Theology and Ministry at Seattle University. Michael spends his time at home today … because we’re in a pandemic! He serves on national and international boards, publishes in his guilds and hikes with his wife, daughter and their 100 pound Hovawart when he isn’t on a zoom call.