It’s hard to believe it’s been seven months since I moved my entire clinical practice to telehealth and my kids have been home from school for most of that time. Seven. Months. Has it felt like seventeen years to anyone else? COVID-19 has impacted so many aspects of our lives, but today, I want to make space for grief and gratitude, and recognize that we can experience both simultaneously.

With any change comes grief and loss, and one could say that we have experienced an exceptional amount of change in the last several months. Currently, it is considered “normal” to work from home, to wear masks in any public place, not to shake hands when you meet someone new or hug when you see an old friend, and to stand six feet away from everyone. The grief of this new normal has been setting in for me personally over the last several weeks and I’ve heard similar reports from many family members, friends, coworkers and clients. I’d like to share some of the ways in which I’ve been noticing the sadness and grief in my own life and in the lives of those around me. Maybe you can relate to some of the following statements.

  • “I physically have to hold myself back from touching or hugging people. It’s excruciating.”
  • “I work alone in my basement and miss being able to walk down the hall and connect with my colleagues. This is so lonely.”
  • “As a therapist, I hate not being in the same room with my clients and having a computer screen in between us. I long to feel the energy in the room again.”
  • “I miss driving in the car, alone, without my children to and from the office — sweet sweet solitude, gone.”
  • “Virtual school for my littles is the worst.”
  • “We have colleagues leaving for different jobs and we can’t even enjoy the giant Costco cake properly — in person — to say farewell.”
  • “We had to postpone our wedding.”
  • “I had to wear a mask when giving birth and no one could come and see the baby in the hospital. If my husband had to leave the hospital, he would not have been able to come back.”
  • “This was a really weird birthday. I hope we get to have birthday parties again someday.”
  • “We can’t go on our family vacation anymore. There are too many people at risk.”
  • “I did not get to go to prom, experience my high school graduation, or say goodbye to my teachers and classmates.”
  • “College feels like a prison.”
  • “The funeral had to be small, outside, and nobody could hug each other. It was so devastating and strange.”
  • “I was excited to meet my new niece, but it was so hard not being able to snuggle and hold her.”
  • “I miss getting on a plane and going somewhere, while feeling safe. Seriously, anywhere.”
  • “All the unknowns and uncertainties are so hard for me. They are endless.”
  • “The creative part of my brain is gone. I need it back.”
  • “I miss parties!”
  • “I miss actually being alone. My family never leaves. I mean, I love them and all, but I need some me time.”
  • “I never thought I would miss going to dinner and a movie, but I really do.”
  • “It’s so strange being in the grocery store with masks on, not seeing ⅔ of peoples’ faces, and watching people back away from each other on purpose so as to not get too close.”
  • “I lost my job. How will I find another job right now? So many people are being laid off.”
  • “How am I going to work from home and try to help my kids with the virtual learning process? This feels impossible.”

Take a moment to reflect and identify the changes you’ve experienced and what you are grieving…

I do not cry very often, but I have noticed the tears are closer to the surface lately. For those of you who do not know me, I’m a hugger. My friends and family can attest to that. Not hugging people has been one of the most difficult parts for me. So much so that I recently asked a friend, who lives down the street, when she thought we would be able to hug again and she said she was willing to hug right then and there. We literally hugged in the middle of the street and tears immediately streamed down my face. The intensity of the grief hit me like a punch to the gut and I could not have stopped the tears if I wanted to. It was real and palpable. I trust I am not alone.

As I am attempting to be present to this immense grief, I am also desperately trying to practice gratitude. I know, I know. You’re probably thinking, “**** ****” or “yeah right, easier said than done, Krista”. You’re not wrong. It’s really hard some days. Stick with me though.

I have to admit, I’ve been continuously surprised and delighted by what people have shared about the positive aspects of the pandemic or the changes they have made in their lives. I invite you to take a few moments to read the quotes below, said by your fellow human travelers.

Notice how their words impact you.

  • “It’s been nice to have a reason to say no to things. It helps me set better boundaries.”
  • “We are usually so busy. I like that it forces us to slow down.”
  • “Going on dates has a whole new meaning. We used to do dinner and a movie and now we can’t really do either of those things. It helps us to be more mindful together — now we go on hikes or bike rides together for our dates and have really good talks.”
  • “My kids usually want to spend all their time with their friends, but the quarantine allowed us to have some quality family time together and that was really nice.”
  • “We have spent more time outside this spring/summer than any other year.”
  • “I’ve been able to start reading some of those books that have been on my list forever. I forgot how much I like to read.”
  • “Especially when everything was shut down, we had nowhere to go, so we were able to complete some of the projects around the house and that was a huge relief.”
  • “Our grocery bill has gone through the roof, but that is because we are cooking so much more, eating more healthily, and eating together as a family. Bonus.”
  • “All of our neighbors have been around and outside so much this summer, and we’ve made some really close friends who live just a few houses away.”
  • “I used to hate my house, but I really like it now because I’ve put the time and energy into organizing it and making it a safe and comfortable space for me to be.”
  • “We play cards and board games again!”
  • “We have completed 15 puzzles in the last 4 months. No joke.”
  • “We all have pen pals and are writing actual letters and sending them in the mail. It is so fun to anticipate getting something meaningful in the mail…other than Amazon packages of course.”
  • “I can’t imagine going through something like this without the technology we have — FaceTime has saved my life. It’s not the same as being in person, but I can still feel somewhat connected with the people I love.”
  • “I started dancing again!”
  • “We go for long drives, listen to our favorite music, and look around at how beautiful Michigan really is. We never did that before because there was no time. Now we have time and that is a gift.”

Hopefully you could resonate with a few of those expressions of gratitude. Please don’t hear me say, “I know this is terrible and we have to grieve, BUT be grateful!” That kind of statement invalidates the grief immediately and probably makes you want to punch me in the face. What I’d like you to hear is: Please please please give yourself permission to grieve all of the losses and changes. Cry, let someone hold you, journal, make grief videos reporting all of the things that feel awful and overwhelming, express the sadness and devastation in ways that feel right to you, and be present with the grief. It’s part of you. It’s ok and normal to feel those things. AND — not but — and be intentional about experiencing the gratitude because otherwise we might drown in the grief. Even if it’s simply looking up at the sky and being in awe of the golden sun shining on the puffy white clouds contrasted against the blue sky, or looking at a raindrop sitting effortlessly on a bright purple flower, or feeling the warm soft snuggles from a beloved child or pet — take a moment to notice and find gratitude each day.

Remember, we are not alone in this. This is happening worldwide. We are all grieving. We are all experiencing gratitude. Together. Be gracious with yourself and others, and make space for both.

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