Aug28FriFinding meaning in suffering and grief during the pandemic. August 28, 2020 by Danielle Strickland
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The entire world seems to be in some stage of grief right now because of what we’re going through together. I have recently recovered myself from the COVID-19 virus, and I’m so grateful.
In these crazy times, we’ve all got some idea of what we’d like to happen. We’d like this virus to end. We’d like people to recover quickly and people at risk to be protected. We’d like provision for people who are losing jobs and income. And we’d like peace, and enough, for everyone.
In unprecedented times like this, we can try to minimize the impact it has on our own lives. Partly, this is just a coping mechanism, and partly, it is a stage of grief.
There are five stages in a classic model of grief that we can link to COVID-19.
The first one is shock and denial—responses like, “No, this can’t be happening … this isn’t that big of a deal … this is going to blow over.” This stage usually connects with a numbness, when you’re not even sure what to think.
The second is pain and guilt—for those who are sick or who know someone who is sick, or the guilt of having passed the virus on if you’ve had it.
The third stage is anger and bargaining—we’re angry at things we can’t control, angry at people who react differently to how we thought they would; and then the bargaining: “What can I do to make this different?”
The fourth stage is depression, or reflection and loneliness—just feeling the weight of this.
This is sometimes accompanied by an upward turn, where things feel a little bit better here and there. A process of reconstruction and working through the issue begins.
The final stage is acceptance and hope—you start to plan and a process of moving forward occurs.
What Does It All Mean?
I heard a podcast recently where the speaker said that they would like to see another stage of grief added—meaning. I really resonated with that.
I was thinking about how we, especially those who believe in God and his goodness and compassion, could find possible meaning in suffering. That’s one of the things that Jesus is so profoundly good at—transforming suffering, meaninglessness and despair. He did that even through his Crucifixion, so that now a cross is a symbol of hope and healing, where it once was a symbol of suffering and despair.
Our grief, too, can be transformed, if we can see that this is not the end of our story.
There are three main steps for working through grief.
The first one is to not minimize your grief—yes, there may be many people more vulnerable than us, and we need to pay attention and respond with a spirit of generosity, but, at the same time, it will not serve anyone to minimize what you’re feeling and experiencing.
The second is to give yourself permission to feel your grief. It’s real.
And lastly, realize that the stages of grief are not linear—one day you might be in shock and denial, the next day you could be overwhelmed with this upward turn, and later that day or the next you’re back to depression and loneliness. It’s OK. But perhaps also consider looking for meaning and ask God for where the meaning is for you personally.
Back to Basics
Many of us have gone “back to basics” during isolation or lockdown. A lot of the peripheral, the things that keep our attention, the tyranny of the urgent, the things we want to get done, the extra things that we are usually excited about, haven’t been there. Instead, this period has been an invitation to not just cut back, but to actually focus on the foundational ways we want to live, and what the basics in our life are.
Do these foundational ways include a connection to God, reflection, paying attention to what we’re feeling, and connecting with a source larger than ourselves?
I’m personally challenged by this question. Are the foundational practices of my spiritual life—my whole body, mind, will and emotions—part of my basic “Life 101”? If they’re not, they really should be. These are essential to well-being. They affect the way we view the world, our mental health, our bodies and our tension and where we hold it.
The Big Question
What really matters, then? This is the question everyone seems to be asking right now as we realize just how fragile our lives really are.
I was struck by 1 Corinthians 13 in the Bible. It’s the “love chapter.” The love chapter is about what really matters. So, if you want to know what God is like, I encourage you to read it. This is how God is—love. He keeps no record of wrongs. He’s not short-tempered. He’s patient, kind, long-suffering and present. And he takes no delight in anyone else’s demise. It is God’s will that everybody should live, and live life to the fullest.
And at the end of the “love chapter,” it says, “These three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” Eternity comes, is present and is working in the world through faith, hope and love. Not only, though, are these three things a way of touching the eternal truth, the things that will last, but they are also the things that really matter in the end.
Faith: the belief that God is with us, that God is involved with us, suffers with us, grieves with us, that God is with us during the challenges that we’re experiencing. It’s not just some additional thing that we grabbed in case we needed a life insurance policy. It’s a way we live right now in any sense of connectedness or freedom or hope for the future.
Hope: that even our grief and our suffering can be transformed into meaningful experiences. It is not wishful thinking to have hope.
Love: that there’s a presence of peace, manifesting as love. If you have experienced and encountered love, then you’ve touched God. You can lean back into his love anytime and he will catch you.
So, what really matters right now, even at the end of this crazy season that will mark our lives as people who survived this together and figured out who we were? Faith, hope and love. I encourage you to keep investing in them.
Danielle Strickland is an international speaker, author and social justice advocate. This article is an edited version of a podcast that can be found at daniellestrickland.com. Reprinted from others magazine (Australia Territory).
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