Acknowledging our collective grief

There is no doubt that this year will go down as one of the most bizarre in history. We have laughed and cried, learnt all about Zoom and Teams, baked banana bread, brewed pineapple beer and learnt new words. Not surprisingly, according to Global Language Monitor, an American data-research company that tracks trends in worldwide use of the English language, the top word of 2020 to date is Covid. Others in the top 50 include: social distancing, face masks, zoom meeting, hand sanitiser, work from home and new normal.

As we slowly start to resume some sense of normality, while much is the same, there is also much that is different, and many people have expressed feeling a deep sense of grief. Grief is a normal response to loss during, or after, a disaster or other traumatic event. Grief can happen in response to loss of life, as well as to drastic changes to daily routines and ways of life that usually bring us comfort and a feeling of stability.

And we should be grieving, because the coronavirus has taken a lot from us all. It has stolen school from the children and hard-earned graduation ceremonies. It has stolen anniversaries, birthdays and milestone celebrations. It has taken rites of passage from matric students and dreams from athletes. It has robbed varsity students of their freedom. It has delayed weddings and trips. It has stolen precious time with loved ones. It has robbed many NGOs, taking away their ability to help the most vulnerable amongst us. It has taken funerals; it has taken handshakes and hugs. It consumed jobs, pay checks and retirement funds. It seized our autonomy, our sense of safety and the false, but comforting belief, that we can predict dangers ahead, that we can protect our children or our elderly loved ones. In the future, people will experience new losses we can’t yet predict.

Grieving is not a linear process, and we go in out of the stages of grief, it ebbs and flows. And while we know that this too shall pass, we must honour our feelings; it’s perfectly alright to deny, be angry, bargain, to be depressed and finally to reach a state of acceptance. There is no right or wrong way to grieve. In his book, Finding Meaning: The Sixth Stage of Grief, David Kessler writes “Each person’s grief is as unique as their fingerprint. But what everyone has in common is that no matter how they grieve, they share a need for their grief to be witnessed. That doesn’t mean needing someone to try to lessen it or reframe it for them. The need is for someone to be fully present to the magnitude of their loss without trying to point out the silver lining.”

With second waves of the pandemic being reported across the globe, we are all aware that we are not out of the woods, we are certain to experience a sense of grief for the life we once knew for a while to come, we must continue to be empathic and kind, we must continue to be hopeful. As Kitty O’Meara wrote in her untitled poem, “when the danger passed, and the people joined together again, they grieved their losses, and made new choices, and dreamed new images, and created new ways to live and heal the earth fully, as they had been healed.”

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