Lessons from Grief

By Krista Nadeau

“We feel the world has changed and it has. We know this is temporary, but it doesn’t feel that way, and we realize things will be different… This is hitting us and we’re grieving. Collectively. We are not used to this kind of collective grief in the air.”

David Kessler, author, public speaker, and death and grieving expert

The year 2020 presented all of us with a negative experience that we are still going through. We watched on the news as this virus hopped from country to country before making its way to the US. Then we watched as it marched across the country, finally making its way to Maine. The first confirmed case was announced on March 12 and Governor Janet Mills declared a Civil State of Emergency a few days later. This would further challenge us, collectively and as individuals. 

Challenges like this take us through the grieving process; through losing someone or something very important, in this case, what we lost was our way of living on so many levels. Grief plays out so many times in life for many different reasons, but not usually collectively as we’ve seen in 2020. 

Where are you in the grieving process? Where are we as a state, a nation, in the grieving process? Our lives changed. Many of us met this virus with fear and anxiety-feelings that often create images in our minds of worse-case scenarios. We know this and statistics prove it.  In June, 40.9% of responders to a survey by the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) reported at least “one adverse mental or behavioral health condition, including symptoms of anxiety or depressive disorders,” according to the report.    

Stages of grief include denial, anger, bargaining, depression- these first feelings are awful but necessary. It’s easy to get stuck in these feelings for some time until we reach acceptance. 

Acceptance does not mean everything is fixed or better but is more about accepting the circumstance and proceeding while facing a new normal.  Control is found in this stage and action is required to keep moving. We now have some guidelines to help protect ourselves and others: wear a mask, stay six feet apart, and wash your hands. 

In 2019, Kessler, through collaboration with the originator of the five stages of grief, Elizabeth, Kubler-Ross’s family, added a critical sixth stage- the stage of meaning. “I did not want to stop at acceptance when I experienced personal grief. I wanted meaning in those darkest hours. And I do believe we can find light in these times.” 

For some, this has been a time of deep, personal growth. Rabiah Boxill has faced many trials in her life already. Her junior year of high school she was emancipated thinking she could do things on her own. She couch-surfed until graduating but had no dreams or aspirations. Finally, she decided to move back home, but it wasn’t until this pandemic hit that she began to see her life change.  

With her younger siblings’ schooling remotely and her parents working, she ended up helping them with their schoolwork. She got used to doing this and realized she really enjoyed working with younger people. Amid these unprecedented times, Rabiah decided to go to college. 

She is now pursuing a degree in education at SMCC. “I want to become a teacher to help shape the minds that will be our future. I want to make a difference. I want to teach kids to reach for the stars even though challenges in life will occur, there is no limit to success.” 

Everybody handles crises differently. The goodness we want to see in humanity is not hard to find during this unprecedented time.  We saw many instances where kindness emerged in the face of fear. We saw schools work to create ventilators and other necessary equipment, we watched people make masks so others could be protected, we saw businesses and communities work to be sure people had food and shelter, we saw people reach out to neighbors while social distancing, before mandated, we saw landlords forgive rent for a few months, people placed hearts on their windows to show support for our medical heroes, and the list goes on. You’ll find them still if you keep your eyes open to seeing them.  We have re-found a sense of community purpose. Again, we can find light in these times. 

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