You’re Allowed to Grieve the Year That Would’ve Been
Canceled parties, graduations, weddings, and book releases are realities many are facing. It’s okay to take time to process those losses.
As we look to stop the spread of Covid-19, social distancing remains the best way to flatten the curve. As mayors and governors implement stricter stay-at-home orders, the effect of the coronavirus is totalizing. Most people have focused on the implications of social distancing on business and industry as fears of economic depression loom. Yet equally important is the human cost of this crisis.
Globally, there have been over 600,000 confirmed cases of the coronavirus and more than 18,000 reported deaths as of March 30. Daily, we wake to reports of more. This difficult reality makes it seemingly impossible for others to vocalize how the global pandemic has affected other aspects of our lives. Many feel that to be upset over canceled special events and postponed business opportunities is a personal luxury we can’t afford when others are dying. But experts say that isn’t necessarily true.
“We need to move away from hierarchies of loss,” says licensed therapist and motivational speaker Thema Bryant-Davis. The myth that we should hold someone else’s suffering as greater than ours prevents us from honoring our own emotions as valid. Bryant-Davis noted the high school seniors who will not have a prom and students across educational levels who will not have the culminating experiences of traditional graduations. She also named those who finally worked through a heartbreak and became hopeful about dating again only to be sidelined by a pandemic. “These are milestones, and the loss of them is real,” she says.
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As many are forced to accept that this is not the year they mapped out on their vision board, wellness expert Devi Brown says it’s okay to grieve that. “None of us have to go directly into resilience,” she says. As Brown’s professional calendar cleared almost immediately due to Covid-19, she allowed herself to express frustration. “If you are feeling disappointed, confused, or scared, it’s important to speak these feelings so they can be processed and dissolved,” she offers.
“We need to move away from hierarchies of loss.”
According to Bryant-Davis, a way to do this is to list the losses. From the social events we’re missing to the professional opportunities that are no more, Bryant-Davis encourages people to write about how we’ve been personally affected by the Covid-19 crisis and sit with the feelings that come. After sitting with them, she suggests finding a way to honor the loss creatively. Through poetry, music, or other artistic mediums, Bryant-Davis believes there is a way to honor “the birthday party that never was.”
For the past 10 years, Nadia Lopez, an educator and motivational speaker, has made a commitment to intentionally celebrate her birthday. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen this year. For the past eight months, she’s been on bed rest due to a stress-related illness. “This was supposed to be a big year, and physically, I just couldn’t do it,” Lopez says. Once she got over her disappointment, Lopez says she came to a simple conclusion. “I could just choose another date.” Making the shift that, in the midst of loss, “all wasn’t lost” gave Lopez a renewed perspective.
As many Americans are settling into being home more, Lopez says the past eight months have prepared her in a way she didn’t expect. “I was forced to sit down and sit with myself,” she says. “I wasn’t necessarily prepared for what I learned about me when I did that.” Lopez believes that while it’s important to name our losses, it’s equally important to admit that the need to be considered successful by others largely motivates us. Brown agrees. “We have always been taught that our worth is intrinsically tied to our productivity,” she says. “The level of uncertainty we are experiencing right now goes against everything society taught us to equate with success and to experience for ourselves.” Consequently, this moment of social distancing provides a unique opportunity to do some much-needed soul work.
Lopez cautions on the impulse to crowd our moments of social distancing with the overstimulation that many online social events can provide. “I don’t want us to miss the chance to sit with ourselves and really evaluate if we are the people we want to be.” Lopez believes it’s possible to see the collective pause the coronavirus is forcing us to take as a moment to shift priorities. “This is the beginning of a new decade,” she says. “How do you want to be different than you were in the last one? You now have time to really think about that.”
Bryant-Davis agrees and recognizes the unfair expectations that are placed on women of color to consistently be resilient in the face of trauma. That expectation often causes women to miss opportunities for healing and personal growth. Bryant says most of this stems from the belief there can’t be competing emotions. “You can be grateful for another year of life and upset that you didn’t get to celebrate it how you planned,” she says. “And when you do that, you can give yourself the best gift by honoring your humanity.” Brown echoes this and hopes women take advantage of the moment. “I hope we hear our own voices more clearly and emerge from this in full command of our destinies.”
Whether it is a canceled birthday party, wedding, or book release, many are facing the reality that 2020 may not be the breakout year we expected. Grieving that is necessary. Additionally, in a moment when we have unprecedented access to tools for emotional wellness, utilizing social distancing to improve ourselves can only yield positive returns. This year will look nothing like what we thought it would, but it can become more than what we imagined.