Intangible Losses Produce Tangible Grief

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    We're heading into a full year of COVID-19 turning our lives inside out. Have you had yourself a pity party yet? Have you thrown what felt like an adult temper tantrum lately? I confess, I've done both! We're affected by grief and loss in ways we might not recognize. If we have loved ones who have been ill or died, the grief is tangible. You don't have to look far to grasp the immense suffering that surrounds us. Just being exposed to trauma of those we know or from the media can cause vicarious loss and trauma. Grieving has been made more difficult by the restrictions on public gatherings, social isolation and limited access to support services.

    I do not want to minimize the momentous losses and grief that many people are experiencing. I do want to draw attention to the many intangible losses that we may be experiencing and can elicit a grief response. They may seem small and even insignificant, especially when held up against the suffering that surrounds us. However, I think it's important to recognize what is happening so we can respond to our personal and very real grief.

    When I think about intangible losses, they involve absence. We are missing something that's important in our lives. Having the assurance that the loss is temporary, or will be restored in future won't necessarily result in grief. We've been living under restrictions for a long time. We've been impacted by the world events of this pandemic. We are worried about the future. These three factors make our losses feel more acute. 

    Some examples of intangible losses:

    • Freedom to be able to go where you want, when you want, including in your own home, if everyone's there!
    • Missing social relationships, including those at work or school. 
    • Not having access to physical touch and personal presence of others. 
    • Lack of respite from caregiving because babysitters or daycare/day programs are not available. 
    • Social services and in-person support groups are not available. 
    • Missing social connection with people you see regularly - everyone from the barista at your favourite coffee shop to your hairstylist or barber. 
    • Inability to plan for the future e.g. vacations, family reunions and other events; resulting in the loss of things to look forward to. 
    • Loss of the 'spark' in close relationships that fuels intimacy; a lack of new inputs when partners and families are confined to home. 
    • Loss of solitude time that you had in the past. 
    • Tension or distancing in friendships and family relationships due to different beliefs and ideas about the pandemic, public health measures and current events. 
    • Loss of recreation, volunteer and other activities that give us joy, connection and meaning. 

    Do any of these situations ring true for you? Can you think of other losses that you've personally experienced? 

    One thing about loss is that it can accumulate, one loss on top of the other, creating a mountain of grief. Current loss has the ability to trigger earlier, unresolved losses. If you are finding yourself ruminating about a severed relationship, job loss, bereavement or some other major life loss in the past, current losses may be playing a role. So what to do? To start, it's key to acknowledge the loss(es) you're experiencing. Then, to give ourselves permission to feel sad, angry, fearful or any number of other emotions. I've mentioned the concept of comparative suffering before. Bren√© Brown talks about it. Trying to talk ourselves out of what we feel by bringing to mind people who are doing worse than ourselves does not help us feel better. In fact, it usually makes us feel worse and doesn't help the people we are thinking about. A great deal of willpower may be needed to avoid comparative suffering. If we're a person who tends to favour the needs of others, we can still have empathy for other people without diminishing our own feelings and experience. 

    Do something kind for yourself. Some suggestions: move your body .... walk outside, ideally in the sunshine ... call a friend .... make a nice meal and eat it undistracted.  Do something that will help restore you. 

    If you've noticed that things that you can normally take in stride tend to send you into an emotional tailspin, you're not alone. The constant undercurrent of stress during a pandemic primes the nervous system.  Practicing self-care and self-compassion towards ourselves when this happens is not always easy. However, like yoga, it's a practice (not a perfect!)  

    This article was published in my February 2021 newsletter. Sign up here

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