On Grieving and Acceptance

I was recently sent an article by a friend written by Scott Berinato, titled ‘That Discomfort you are feeling is Grief’. Just the title itself resonated with how I’ve been feeling for a while now.

The article was prompted off the back of a colleague who told Scott that what she most feels at the moment is grief. There was collective agreement in their online meeting – and it would seem that her experience is now my experience and possibly yours too. The article suggests that what we are currently experience, as we sit in lockdown is a form of grief.

Scott turns to David Kessler an expert for grief who co-wrote with Elizabeth Kübler-Ross On Grief and Grieving: Finding the Meaning of Grief through the Five Stages of Loss. His new book adds another stage to the process, Finding Meaning: The Sixth Stage of Grief. He is also the founder of www.grief.com.

Kessler shares how we are all feeling a number of different griefs. Grief over a changed world, grief over the loss of life, the economy, connection, safety – the loss of normalcy in general. And this time round it’s a collective grief.

I remember feeling this on a more personal level the day I found out I was going to become a mom. It was an exciting time filled with the anticipation of a little bundle of joy – but at the same time there was this anticipation of loss (of the life I had become accustomed to) as well. Kessler refers to this as anticipatory grief. He explains that anticipatory grief is that feeling we get about what the future holds when we’re uncertain. And even in such a joy filled time (the excitement of meeting this new little person) there was a lot I was so uncertain of. What I have come to understand slowly over time is that with any change (chosen or not) – there is always some form of loss and therefore some form of grieving.

Lately my days have been filled with uncertainty, anxiety and anticipatory grief for me in particular. Life went from every day normality of routine and familiarity (school runs, work meetings, workshop facilitation or coaching, playdates, park runs, movies and dinner, time with friends), to half of that routine (some work, some school and way less socializing) to a current 21 day lockdown at home. This is all happened in a matter of 3 short weeks.

My anticipatory grief in particular has increased over this time and I find myself thinking worst case scenarios around loved ones, friends, our economy and our world. To be honest my emotions have been a bit of rollercoaster ride.

Elizabeth Kübler-Ross identified 5 stages of grief. In order to get to acceptance which is the 5th and last stage one has to work your way through the first 4 stages, namely, denial, anger, bargaining and depression.

My own journey has felt something like this:

Denial: Surely this won’t affect us here in South Africa.

Anger: This is interfering with all our lives and harming so many people – Please just go away!

Bargaining: Ok, we are washing our hands, using masks, sanitizers, avoiding people – surely this will stop the spread.

Depression: I don’t feel like engaging or connecting much. I want to spend some time alone with my thoughts and feelings.

Day 4 into our lockdown and although our new ‘way’ of living still feels so strange and uncomfortable for now – it is slowly finding its own rhythm.

My journey of motherhood has been paved with many wonderful, precious moments and unexpected scenario’s such as my first born operated on at 5 months and last year having spent the second week of my second born life’s quarantined in hospital after an operation.

What I am learning, in the midst of moments of pain and grieving, is that, before I can accept what is, I must give myself permission to just experience my emotions as they are. Not to question or to resist but to ride the wave knowing it eventually ebbs off onto the shore.

As we approached our 21 day lock down my husband and I spent some time focusing on what we would like from this time, for ourselves and our family.

We have used the framework from The 3 Vital Questions by David Emerald to guide our discussions.

1. What do we want to place our focus on?

We have chosen to focus on what we can control over this time and to align our focus with our family values of shared adventure – equal opportunities. We want to create a safe space for each other and our children where the familiarity of connection remains central to our time together.

2. How do we want to relate to each other, our children and others?

We found this question so significant especially in a time of social distancing and lockdown. We want our relating to one another to be centred around the following words: Honesty, Flexibility, Grace. Compassion. We want to be open to honest conversations and to hold space for the grieving we are each dealing with in our own ways. We have also chosen to adapt our expectations to the current reality. For example knowing we can’t expect our work days to look as they did a week ago.

3. What creative actions can we take?

We’ve co-created some simple steps for us as family based on the above. Whether its baking with the kids, reading a bedtime story or maintaining our home together we continue to take it day by day – reminding ourselves that we are in this together – as a family and as a country. In and amongst the grieving and eventual acceptance I am grateful to have something to hold on to, something to guide me, in this time of uncertainty. How are you feeling during this time? What are you holding onto?

Written by Célia Senekal

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