Miriam Selph, MA, PsyD
Grief and the New Normal
At the age of three, my parents moved our family to Kenya. They gave away many toys that we could not take with us (including a Fischer Price farmhouse I miss to this day), sold our house, and said tearful goodbyes to family and friends. Although young, this was the first of many goodbyes I would make in my life. We moved again at the age of 7 to Madagascar, went back to the States at the age of 8 due to the death of two grandparents, then moved to the Seychelles islands at the age of 11, and then transitioned back to the States for college at the age of 18. Each move carried with it tearful goodbyes, scary uncertainty, and new unknowns. Each time I had to find a “new normal” in a new country.
Each person, no matter their life circumstances, has grappled with these same feelings in some form. Loss. Grief. Death. Goodbyes. Chronic illness. Break-up. Moving. Divorce. Uncertainty. Unknowns. A new life or “new normal” that we did not ask for or even want. Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the world has been experiencing collective grief. We have been grieving the loss of our old way of life and trying to accept this “new normal.” Many have been mourning the loss of loved ones to COVID-19. We have all been pushed into a “new life” that we did not ask for or desire. Loss often causes us to wish the clock would stop, so that we can sit and grapple with the change. We want the world to acknowledge that we have lost something. It can feel like an insult that the world keeps moving. And yet, it does.
The pain of loss and undesired change often leaves us wishing for a quick escape from the discomfort. While this is a natural feeling, it can lead to being unpleasantly surprised by the same emotion down the line. The only way out is through. As a person cycles in a jumbled order through the “stages” of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, and depression, they eventually arrive upon acceptance, and even, making meaning from their grief. Many find grief never completely goes away; rather, your life grows around your grief, to accept and adapt to your new reality. Here are some important things to keep in mind as you make the human journey through your feelings of loss and grief:
Embrace the idea that it is “okay to not feel okay.” Avoidance of difficult emotion may be necessary for periods of time in order to function, but discomfort will not last forever. In this life, we will never be completely free of negative emotions. Emotions will always go up and down. Grief is not a mental disorder; it is a universal human experience. Anger and confusion are normal. Make sure you are making time for your feelings; to cry, to talk to someone about your thoughts, to sit with your feelings.
Work to acknowledge that what has happened, has happened. It is okay not to like the reality of your world sometimes. Focus on telling yourself, “I do not like it, but I accept that it occurred,” or, “I may not like it, but it happened.” Struggling with reality only prolongs suffering.
Connect with others who have experienced the same, or similar loss. Grief can feel very isolating, but you are not alone in these feelings. Talking with others about what was meaningful can be helpful in realizing the memory of what was lost is not gone. Others who have experienced similar loss can also provide insight on how they managed. Although it may be tempting, do not allow grief to shut you off from others. A life without love and connection may be a life without any pain, but it is also a life without joy and humanity.
Identify and engage with what you value. Reconnecting with values provides a sense of stability and reminds you that there is purpose to your life despite loss or change. Purpose has a way of helping us endure discomfort. Examples are: seeking solace in your spiritual beliefs, focusing on your family, helping others in need, getting back to an old hobby you used to enjoy. Grief may leave you feeling disillusioned about previous values. That is normal. Focus on the values that have not changed. The old ones will either return or modify to better fit your new understanding of the world.
Seek additional support. Mental health counseling can provide needed emotional support, coping strategies for grief, and a safe place to hold the numerous emotions that come with a grief journey. At Cornerstone Counseling and Wellness, we would be honored to walk alongside you. For more information, please visit our website at www.cornerstonecounselingnc.net or call us at 984-235-2545.