I don’t know about everyone else, but between Covid 19, the recent brutal killings of unarmed black men and women and the loss of respect for the Constitution and the Citizenry that is reported, I have been feeling a lot of grief lately.

I saw this piece about grieving on Ken William’s (pastor husband of our interim minster, Peg Williams several years ago) Facebook page a couple of months ago, and have returned to it several times. I share it with Ken’s permission:

I keep returning to the topic of grief. Since my late wife’s illness and death a decade ago, I’ve been shaped – and re-shaped – by the meaning I have found in my own process. The Harvard Business Review – of all places! – published last week a conversation with David Kessler, co-author with Eliabeth Kubler-Ross of the book, On Grief and Grieving: Finding the Meaning of Grief Through the Five Stages of Loss.

Grief is defining us as a nation. As losses mount, grief deepens. How can we manage it? Here are Kessler’s words:

“Understanding the stages of grief is a start. But whenever I talk about the stages of grief, I have to remind people that the stages aren’t linear and may not happen in this order. It’s not a map but it provides some scaffolding for this unknown world. There’s denial, which we say a lot of early on: This virus won’t affect us. There’s anger: You’re making me stay home and taking away my activities. There’s bargaining: Okay, if I social distance for two weeks everything will be better, right? There’s sadness: I don’t know when this will end. And finally there’s acceptance. This is happening; I have to figure out how to proceed.

Acceptance, as you might imagine, is where the power lies. We find control in acceptance. I can wash my hands. I can keep a safe distance. I can learn how to work virtually.”

Grief comes in types, one being anticipatory grief. This is where our imagination takes over, where we envision going from bad to catastrophe. Kessler’s words again:

“Anticipatory grief is the mind going to the future and imagining the worst. To calm yourself, you want to come into the present. This will be familiar advice to anyone who has meditated or practiced mindfulness but people are always surprised at how prosaic this can be. You can name five things in the room. There’s a computer, a chair, a picture of the dog, an old rug, and a coffee mug. It’s that simple. Breathe. Realize that in the present moment, nothing you’ve anticipated has happened. In this moment, you’re okay. You have food. You are not sick. Use your senses and think about what they feel. The desk is hard. The blanket is soft. I can feel the breath coming into my nose. This really will work to dampen some of that pain.

You can also think about how to let go of what you can’t control. What your neighbor is doing is out of your control. What is in your control is staying six feet away from them and washing your hands. Focus on that.”

Finally, Kessler says to “stock up on compassion.” See the anxiety in others without judgment. Recognize yourself in them. Honor common loss. Step out of your own pain into theirs. In this way we truly share grief, and, ultimately, find meaning.

*Quotes taken from the article “That Discomfort You’re Feeling Is Grief,” March 23, 2020 issue of the Harvard Business Review, by Senior Editor Scott Berinato

Jim Smith