There comes a time when one is thrown into transition or chaos and then out of transition again. What are the automatic responses to disruption? Certainly, we have all responded in our own ways during this pandemic. In order to make sense of chaos we have made numerous behavioral and emotional adjustments to create our own certainties and we continue to do so.
For some we cope through creating a newness in our lives through rationalization, feel-good feelings, and doing the best to pamper and protect ourselves. However, adapting to the newness may comes with abandonment issues, such as the death of friends and/or family, loss of employment, and even the dissolving of meaningful relationships. These losses are accompanied with some level of grief. There is a type of grief that is not talked about unless you have supportive individuals who can relate via their own firsthand experiences.
Disenfranchised grief is something which is more ambiguous and subtle. For the person experiencing this type of grief this period can be very lonesome and isolating, after all it is the new normal. The latent messaging is that somehow the grieving person is not adaptable or even strong enough to transition through it. Think about the time when we were in lockdown—we felt something was not right. To protect ourselves from the virus we had to abandon normal behaviour, in turn experiencing some sense of loss. Remember those losses—no hugs, no live interactions, no daily rituals with family or colleagues. No to the many basic things which bring us joy, excitement and fulfillment.
To minimize our grief, we quickly recreated the term new normal. This conceptualization is a reconstruction of reality to minimize our pain. For many people, preserving a positive outlook and striving to achieve change have led them to a foreign place. But the subtle affects of achieving the new normal for some is the denial of the self to grieve the loss. As we are merging back to the “old normal”, are we just supposed to stay calm and carry on? The things that we have missed or lost are now rationalized as “covid induced”. The term serves only to reconceptualize grief once again as the new normal.
It is vital that we see disenfranchised grief as losses, not the new normal or Covid related issues. The friend who has decided to move across the country to find fulfillment is a loss to your daily well-being. The colleagues who have quit now represent a gap in your work relationships. The social bubble relationships that were cultivated have dissipated as a result of pandemic restrictions becoming more relaxed. Most importantly, the routines and habits you have created to survive are again different. Rationally you understand that change is constant but emotionally you recognize individuals’ choices have impacted your own level of joy. Behaviorally you are left standing alone, and that is disenfranchised grief.
Once again you are faced with another new normal.
This time, however, people are excited rather than fearful. When you express your grief about your losses, you are once again told it is another version of the new normal. So when do we get to truly grieve? Can we keep up with the grief? Let’s take the time to reflect on our own feelings.
You CAN grieve. Recognize that grief is not only for big losses. Small losses can trigger complex emotional responses. Sadness, loneliness, self-doubt and despair are all examples of normal responses. When society will tell you to get over it, implying it is part of change and that you are not adapting, in essence, those messages have taken away your chance to grieve. So guess what? You will have to be your own best friend. Take the time to allow yourself the sadness which comes with that loss. Listen to what you are saying to yourself and focus on you. If you can not do that, try to remember who was nurturing to you when you were down. Imagine what would this person say to you now which may bring comfort during this low moment?
Keep up with your grief.
When you are constantly told that your disenfranchised grief is something you need to get over, rushing through the grieving process only serves to help dismiss your feelings. Grief is complex and has many stages. You will experience denial, anger, bargaining, sadness, and acceptance. It can be helpful for the individual to process the stages of grief via journaling and/or talking about each. We start to feel better about it and believe we have accepted it, but grief is tricky at the bargaining stage. Here we learn to cope by postponing the sadness and engaging in self-negotiation activities. What if I grieve later and just get through these work deadlines? This is a short-term coping mechanism. In the long term it does not help the individual recognize their emotions. Give yourself the permission to spend time analyzing your complex emotions and find ways to note the small progress, looking for clues to enhance your own recovery.
Validating small losses.
To be emotionally honest with ourselves, we must recognize that small losses are a constant experience during uncertain times. Acknowledgment of the loss begins with processing the pain, even when the rest of society does not sympathize. Rather than visualizing what you don’t have, give yourself some time to focus on what has been lost and your inner resources to move forward. The secret to making sense of what has happened is in the way you explain your losses to yourself.
Finally, understand that if things will never be the same—maybe they could just be different? Trust that your past experiences and abilities will help carry you through this difficult stage—and remember, time is always your friend.