Right now, the world is trying to make sense of a tragedy that makes no sense: A microscopic particle has traveled across borders and oceans to tank economies, push millions out of work and school, and kill tens of thousands.
When a loved one dies, people know to grieve. But it’s just as important to grieve a loss of normalcy, according to Dr. Patrice A. Harris, a psychiatrist and the president of the American Medical Association.
“Anxiety is something that’s talked a lot about, but I don’t think that grief is talked a lot,” she told VICE News.
“There is a lot of disruption in routine,” Harris added. “I’ve heard from talking with parents that their teenagers are grieving prom and the inability to go to prom. Their teenagers are grieving graduation, high school graduation. And we know that college students are grieving.”
Routine often gives people a sense of self and purpose. And without that, they may be experiencing profound grief as they try to redefine themselves without jobs, or feel farther from their schools, religious communities, and relationships.
To get through that grief, Harris emphasized the importance of connection. She prefers the term “physical distancing” to the more frequently used “social distancing,” because social connections are more important now than ever before.
And then, of course, there’s the more familiar grieving process, which has also become even more difficult due to the pandemic. In many places, funerals have been banned due to fears of spreading the virus.
“We can develop new rituals and new routines. Family members can get together and decide, ‘OK, we are not going to be able to have a funeral or service or a memorial. But here’s what we can do.’ And fortunately, we can be connected through technology,” Harris said.
With so much uncontrollable and unknowable factors in the current situation, people need to give themselves time and space to experience grief.
“We each have to recognize how we grieve, respect how we grieve. Give ourselves permission to grieve in a way that gets us through to the next phase, which is remembering, appreciating what we had, and then deciding what we can do each individual way to move forward in the next phase.”
Cover: VICE TV.