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Learning to Cope with Loss

This is a time of collective grief—for a way of life, certainty about the future, the presence of our loved ones. We were ambushed by the removal of our daily structure, and thrust into a “new normal” where schedules and external timelines have melted away, replaced by this amorphous, day-to-day existence. We have all been forced to look inward, and many are struggling.


Grief is often a complex mix of many emotions: sadness, helplessness, anger, guilt, even sometimes relief. And though we are now more familiar with possible stages of grieving, it is anything but linear. Waves of intense sadness often emerge unexpectedly, taking our breath away.


Physicians are trained in the medical model: obtain the history, review the signs and symptoms, create a treatment plan, and relieve the pain. The trouble is, when we talk about grief, the pain is important. Not only does it slow us down, it forces us to reflect on what has been lost. We look around and notice the absence of something. We see the empty space, the hole that emerged, and we are changed.


Many of us don’t know how to speak to someone wrapped tightly in deep sorrow after loss. We are afraid we will say the wrong thing, come across as insensitive. Or worse. So rather than stumble ahead, we may withdraw and send small pieces of ourselves: flowers, cards, texts. These gestures are well-meaning, but anyone who has gone through a period of intense grief can speak to the loneliness the loss brings. This may be compounded by their desire to avoid “burdening” their loved ones with the weight of their suffering. But we need to talk to each other.


You also have the power to be that listener in the lives of your friends and family, to those in your community, or those you encounter as they struggle through their day. There is no perfect thing to say when you are with a grieving individual. Just being there, letting them cry, tells them you believe their feelings are valid and important.


We have an opportunity to experience a multi-generational communion of grief in the face of this pandemic. The losses accumulate, and yet we continue forward, bearing the weight. Speak of your stories, your pain, your worries. We need connection to cope. Share these difficult situations with a good listener—one who looks you in the eye, reflects back the importance of your feelings and truly listens to your experience. This can be an incredibly potent pain reliever.


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