A Case for Grieving the Mundane Losses of a Pandemic

A woman stands small and alone on a rock in front of a body of water stretching out behind her, clothing a blanket to her body. grief in a pandemic

Almost overnight, I started losing freelance writing work.

Soon after everything shut down in mid-March, I got an email from one of my clients. They were reworking their business plan for the year, adjusting the topics they’d be covering, and limiting the work they were publishing. 

I took some deep breaths. It’s okay, I thought. Not ideal, but honestly, probably for the best. With the kids home full-time, I have so much less time to work, anyway. 

Then, a similar client followed: they wouldn’t be assigning me new work, but I was still free to pitch. A few weeks later, a third client cut my workload in half. I took more deep breaths. 

By the time June arrived, I knew that nothing about this was business as usual. The fight for racial justice was front and center — as it needs to be.

And yet I anxiously watched my inbox, willing new assignments to appear. This is it, I thought when they didn’t. My last clients are dumping me. Refresh inbox. I’m losing work and don’t even have the time and resources to get it back. Refresh. How far is this going to set me back financially, professionally? Refresh. Is this what getting laid off feels like? My writing career, 10 years in the making — gone overnight? 

With each day that passed, my worry turned into despair, and then financial grief. 

Everyone is experiencing grief right now… 

Right now, we’re all experiencing a degree of loss and trauma. And that merits a grieving process. As leading grief researcher David Kessler puts it, “Grief is usually a change we didn’t want.”

I think we can all identify a recent change we didn’t want due to the pandemic. And we all deserve to grieve the loss of a world we weren’t prepared to give up.

For me, I’ve been grieving my income and career, yes. But I’ve also lost more:

  • Chances to connect with friends and family members in person and to recognize holidays and celebrate birthdays together. 
  • Celebrating my 10-year wedding anniversary with anything more than an at-home date.
  • Child care, and with it, time to get anything done (and the ability to maintain my mental health and personal well-being). 
  • A confidence that my parents will be around to support and love me for 20+ more years.

You might relate to these losses, or have your own unique losses — financial or otherwise. The pandemic has stolen something from all of us. It has set all of us back from where we hoped and expected to be. And wherever there’s loss like this there’s also grief.

But where there’s the pain of grief, suffering can follow if we don’t allow ourselves to feel the pain. Are you allowing yourself to feel the loss, to grieve your original hopes or dreams for the year? I’ve found it difficult to do this.

… But that doesn’t mean our own pain isn’t important

Someone is struggling more than I am. Many people are. It could be worse. 

That’s what I told myself as the days passed, and my inbox remained silent. We can still pay bills. We don’t rely on my income for most living expenses. It’s not that bad. 

This was me feeling the itch to put my loss in perspective. I can’t forget that millions are grieving loved ones they’ve lost to the pandemic. I can’t forget that many more are surviving this virus but are still suffering through the side effects. And I can’t forget the health care providers that are dealing with the trauma of witnessing and fighting this horrific illness.

Those who are experiencing deep loss must have their losses honored. But we can honor those losses without denying our own.

Comparing our suffering, or competing for who has it worst or is moving through this the best, is a trap. And it’s a trap that gets us stuck in denying or ignoring our own hurts. This can only ensure that we’ll experience our pain for longer.

Recognizing other people’s grief does not and should not invalidate our own grief.  

Avoiding grief only makes it grow

Processing grief can be long and painful, there’s no doubt about it. But avoiding it can make it feel even more overwhelming once the pressure mounts.

That’s exactly how my loss of work went. I’d already breathed my way through 8 weeks of small cuts, fighting the urge to engage in forced positivity. But by the beginning of June, the grief and loss was taking up all my mental and emotional space. I finally came face-to-face with all my pent-up hurt and it laid me out flat. I spent all day in bed or on the couch, alternating between doomscrolling, rewatching Survivor, and crying.

It was unsettling to be awash in this level of distress, but it forced me to slow down enough to see how much I’d lost, and how much that loss hurt.

The first step I took to manage my grief was to recognize it and name it. Then, any time I felt like I was in the midst of it, I could give it the time and space it deserves so I could move through it.

Grief is not something to be avoided. It’s a gift. As a favorite author of mine Glennon Doyle puts it, “Grief is the souvenir of love.” It’s proof of our big, life-defining loves for the people we might lose. 

It’s also a souvenir of small loves. The love (now loss) of an embrace with friends. The love (now loss) of having a safe school and caring teachers to support my kids and our family. The love (now loss) I had for my freelance career and work.

There’s no loss too small to grieve over. We all deserve the space to process our hurts, and we need to do so if we ever wish to heal them. 

Grief can guide us

There’s another important role grief can play. It can be the emotional mechanism we use to process and metabolize the pain of loss. It can transition us from what we had to what is next. 

Think of grief like the gondola that ferries us across the deep river of loss, taking us from the crumbling, eroding bank of what was to the solidifying bank of what may be

That is, if we let it. If we muster the courage to step into grief, it can ford the river of our pain. It can help us step out on solid ground once again, even if only for a moment at a time. 

Recommended resources on dealing with financial loss and mundane grief

  • Grieving Life and Loss” by Kristen Weir for the American Psychological Association. “We’re capable of losing places, projects, possessions, professions and protections, all of which we may be powerfully attached to,” says Dr. Rober Neimeyer. Read more about the unique grief the pandemic is causing, along with suggestions to manage grief and work through it.
  • That Discomfort You’re Feeling Is Grief” provides an interview of leading grief researcher David Kessler by Scott Berinato for Harvard Business Review. Kessler speaks deftly of the ways grief is woven into the experiences of this pandemic, through our loss of normalcy, safety, certainty, community, and economic stability. He shares ways to move through grief, too.
  • A Pandemic of Grief,” by Chelsea Alarcon for Urban Balance. If I were to share a list of what’s helped me manage my grief while honoring it, it would look like this article.
  • Financial loss, grief & resilience” from MyGriefAssist. How can financial losses trigger grief? Because losing a career, job, savings, or asset is about more than just the money. It also speaks to our identities, our sense of safety and security, and our hopes and plans for the future.
  • How Grief Affects Your Finances,” a conversation between Emily Guy Birken and Melanie Lockert on the Mental Health & Wealth podcast. They explore the effects of grief on money management and finances, and share suggestions for how to manage your money better through a loss and grief. Emily also shares several excellent tips to ask for support after a loss, and how to offer meaningful help to a loved one experiencing grief.

Photos by Ivan Karasev and Ahmed Zayan on Unsplash

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