Grieving the Loss of the Pre-COVID-19 World

The other day I received a message from a friend that read: “I just needed to talk. To say these things to someone I know who gets it.” We hopped on a video call. Then, she began to cry. “Sorry, it’s all getting to be too much,” she said as she wiped away the tears. “I wish you were here. I could really use a hug.”

Over the past few days, I’ve had this type of conversation several times. It’s becoming familiar as I’ve chatted online with friends. There’s been a shift in mood from anxiety to a pervasive sense of sadness.

Many of us got word yesterday that our children would not be returning to school to finish out the year. Another massive blow on the heels of all the other changes we’ve made in recent weeks. Most of us now work from home, that is if we still have a job. We can’t gather in groups larger than ten. Doctors and dentists’ offices sit empty of patients in lieu of online medical visits, except for emergencies.

Even the simplest of errands has required planning and preparation. This past week I grocery shopped wearing a surgical mask. I waited my turn to enter the local grocery store’s large interior since only a maximum of fifty people is allowed inside. Instead of a friendly handshake, the store’s employee greeted me at the main entrance with one pump of hand sanitizer and a wet wipe to cleanse the handle of my cart.

I no longer recognize the new world. The initial feeling of novelty has worn off, replaced by fatigue and a longing to return to the familiarity of what once was. Like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, I want to click my heels together with hopes I can return to the life I had before the COVID-19 pandemic.

We’re grieving.

I recognize this new mood; it’s grief. We are collectively mourning the loss of the world we knew as we enter the uncharted territory of the world that has yet to become.

And with that diagnosis, life as I knew it ended. The new house, my private counseling practice, our retirement dreams, and my marriage. Suddenly over with no fanfare. No loud bang. It just disappeared.

David Kessler, one of the foremost experts on loss, said in a recent interview with Brené Brown that there are no shortcuts in grief. We must feel the pain. He explained that the way we individually grieve is unique but it is emotional work we cannot avoid. “There no way around the pain. If you don’t feel it, you can’t heal it,” he stated. (Unlocking Us Podcast, David Kessler and Brené Brown on Grief and Finding Meaning)