4 Ways to Grieve the Little Losses and Find Hope and Happiness Now
Telling yourself that other people have it worse isn’t enough.
I feel so selfish and ungrateful when I think about how COVID-19 has affected me.
I should be focused on the positives: I’m not sick. My loved ones are healthy. No one I know personally has died. My kids aren’t little. My income is down, but it’s not zero. These are all inconveniences, not hardships.
It could be so much worse.
And yet, I’m sad about a lot of things:
- I haven’t seen my parents or any of my friends in Massachusetts since November.
- My husband and I had to cancel the trip we had planned for our anniversary.
- My daughter missed her high-school prom, had a drive-up graduation, and is starting her first year of college taking online classes from her bedroom.
- Most of what I like to do for fun — concerts, festivals, baseball games, restaurants — is canceled or scaled way back.
- I haven’t been to the gym in months.
- We’ve missed graduation celebrations, birthday parties, and casual evenings socializing with friends and neighbors.
- Mundane stuff like grocery shopping or going to the post office is stressful — Will it be crowded? Will people be wearing masks? Should I go at a different time? Will I be able to find what I need?
It feels insensitive to grieve for these little losses, when so many people are out of work, sick, and dying.
But these little losses affect us, too, according to Lori Gottlieb, a therapist and author of Maybe You Should Talk to Someone.
“It’s hard to talk about these silent losses because we fear that other people will find them insignificant and either dismiss them or expect us to ‘get over them’ relatively quickly,” Gottlieb writes in the New York Times.
“Suffering shouldn’t be ranked, because pain is not a contest,” she writes. “When we rank our losses, when we validate some and minimize others, many people are left alone to grieve what then become their silent losses.”
Here’s how she says we can cope with these little losses.
Give Yourself Permission to Grieve
I’m struggling with allowing myself to grieve. And yet, we’re many months into this pandemic. Telling myself how I should or shouldn’t feel doesn’t seem to be working. And even though my losses are small, they’re still losses.
Gottlieb writes that grieving feels uncomfortable, so often we try to get rid of the feeling.
And we don’t have rituals, like funerals and gatherings, that help us mourn the losses we’re all facing during the pandemic.
But acknowledging our grief helps us cope with our feelings.
“The more we can say to ourselves and the people around us, ‘Yes, these are meaningful losses,’ the more seen and soothed we will feel,” Gottlieb writes.
Barbara Sheehan-Zeidler, a licensed professional counselor in Littleton, Colorado, recommends that we set aside a few minutes every day to sit with our thoughts and emotions.
“The purpose of this time-to-mourn ritual is to create comfort around you and encourage the feelings to come forward in a planned way so we lead the dance with grief and mourning, and not the other way around,” she writes in Counseling Today.
Giving yourself planned time to grieve can also help when sad thoughts pop up at other times. It can make it easier to manage them if you know you have time and space when you’ll focus on them.
Focus on Today
Staying present is another challenge for me. As the cancellations and disappointments pile up, I look ahead and see more things to worry about:
- Will my kids be able to come home for Thanksgiving?
- Will it be safe to visit my parents by Christmas?
- Is another wave of sickness and death coming?
The uncertainty — when will this all end, and what will life look like then? — makes dealing with the pandemic even more difficult for us all.
Gottlieb encourages us to ground ourselves in the present. And we don’t have to deny the losses we’re experiencing when we do that.
Even with an undercurrent of grief, we can walk our dogs, take our kids on bike rides, work, prepare and eat meals together, and curl up on the couch at the end of the day.
This way, we can stay present when we’re doing those things, so we recognize that, at least for a while, we feel content.
Besides staying present, we can also focus on what we’re learning as we live through this pandemic.
“There’s recognition that life will never be the same. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be good,” Mary Jo Kreitzer, director of the Center of Spirituality and Healing at the University of Minnesota, told the StarTribune.
She recommends writing down three things you feel grateful for every day and reviewing your list once a week.
Grieve Your Own Way
Like a lot of us, I coped early in the pandemic by baking. I even bought a brick-sized block of cream cheese at Costco so I could make cheesecake anytime.
Lately, I’ve switched over to a morning bike ride to help reset my mental health (it’s a better choice for my physical health, too).
Gottlieb points out that everyone grieves differently. One person curls up on the couch while another wants to be with family. One starts a running habit and another dives into a novel. One goes on a clutter-clearing spree and another overhauls their wardrobe.
Doing things that give you a feeling of control, like cleaning out your refrigerator or choosing soothing music over NPR, can help.
There’s no “right” way to grieve. “Everyone moves through loss in a unique way, so it’s important to let people do their grieving in whatever way works for them without diminishing their losses or pressuring them to grieve the way you are,” Gottlieb writes.
Kreitzer points out that there are lots of ways people can process their feelings — journaling, music, art, prayer, and support groups are a few options.
Seek Help if You Need It
A lot of people are turning to mental health professionals these days to find ways to cope with grief, anxiety, and loss.
The Bottom Line
It’s okay to feel sad, disappointed, and frustrated at the way our lives are playing out these days. We’re grieving.
- Give yourself permission to grieve
- Focus on today
- Grieve your own way
- Seek help if you need it
We can take these steps to process our feelings and look forward to a future filled with hope and happiness.
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