Will We Make Room for Grief in the "New Normal"?

Coping with Grief / Coping with Grief : Eleanor Haley

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I live catty-corner to two schools - a public middle school and a private boy's high school. Each school has a different process for getting students onto their campus each morning. The middle school transports students in its traditional yellow buses, while the high school requires kids and their families to provide their own transportation. 

As a result, every Monday to Friday morning, there's a mini traffic jam outside my house. The buses roll up one street; the parents and students line up in their cars on a perpendicular road. Throw in a few walkers, street parkers, and a crossing guard for good measure, and you have quite the commotion. 

I used to find this routine annoying. It made my dog bark, woke up my baby, and made it difficult for us to go anywhere until the rush died down. That was until one day, about a year ago, everything came to a halt. The busses stopped rolling, and the parents stopped carpooling. COVID-19 shut the world down, and I truthfully found the silence a little disquieting.

At first, we thought the kids would be back by April, then May, June, July, and August. At one point over the summer, we thought for sure they'd return in September, but that month passed too, along with October, November, December, January, February, and into March. A year passed and we adjusted to the silence.

COVID grief school

But then, this morning, I looked out my window, and the school buses and the cars, the crossing guard, and the walkers were all back. As quickly as the commotion stopped, it started up again. It was like someone paused the scene almost a year ago exactly. This morning they finally found the remote under a couch cushion and hit unpause.

At that moment, I felt an overwhelming wave of emotion and uncertainty. On the one hand, the familiarity of this school-day ritual brought me an immense sense of relief. I didn't realize how much I missed the sound of business-as-usual. On the other hand, I cautioned myself not to assume anything is normal. The motions may look similar, but so much has changed.   

Grieving people know this feeling all too well. They know what it's like to long for the comfort of familiar things, only to find those things feel changed and unsettling. And they understand the paradox of longing to feel "better" again but fearing the day it will happen and its implications. Will they be expected to be the same, even though they will never be the same again? Will their grief be forgotten and, just as importantly, will their loved ones be remembered?

As disengaged as we each may feel from one another, we are all a part of a greater whole that has been deeply affected by loss. Over the last year, 2.72 million people have died from COVID worldwide. 542 thousand died in the U.S. alone (as of today). And that says nothing of the countless non-death losses incurred. As John Donne wrote, "Any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankind". Those 2.72 million lives matter to humankind, and so should the grief of those who mourn them.

I don't begrudge anyone feeling ready to put this year behind them. I'm right there with you most of the time, like a racehorse waiting to bolt out of the start gate. But sometimes I'm not. Like this morning, while staring out my window, a part of me wished for my silent street back and everything it represented. The silence signified, to me, that something world-changing was happening and that it was time to stop what we were doing, care for ourselves, care for each other, and bear witness.

How will we continue to bear witness and care for each other when we're back to punching time clocks and rushing to make homeroom? I'm not saying it can't or won't happen. However, I worry that we're so eager to move forward that we may hesitate to look back. And if we don't look back, we won't see the people who are struggling to move forward because of everything they've lost on the COVID battlefield. 

We need to remember that though things may look closer to fine in general, many people are not fine at all. We've amassed so much grief, and grief takes time. It doesn't disappear with the change of a season or circumstance. And it's okay not to be fine, even if it seems like the world is moving on at times. Grieving people get thrust back into day-to-day life far before they are ready, which will be true once again. But it's okay if psychologically, you're someone who needs to take your time with the whole "moving forward," "future," and "new normal" thing.

There's room to celebrate the hope and promise many of us feel. The rebirth of spring is peeking through the frozen ground. The vaccines will save lives. And many of the barriers to connecting, coping, working, and living will be gone in time. These are all good things. But two things can be true at once. We can move forward with hope and still be mindful of where we've been.

We invite you to share your experiences, questions, and resource suggestions with the WYG community in the discussion section below.

We invite you to share your experiences, questions, and resource suggestions with the WYG community in the discussion section below.

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After writing online articles for What’s Your Grief for over a decade, we finally wrote a tangible, real-life book!

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10 Comments on "Will We Make Room for Grief in the "New Normal"?"

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  1. Maureen  August 6, 2021 at 9:12 am Reply

    In October, my brother died of Covid. He lived in Fl. And I’m in VA. It all happened so quickly & while I so badly wanted to see him, the concerns about traveling then left me wondering. Within a few days he was moved to ICU, and no visitors were allowed in. I never got to see him, hug him and even our Memorial service had to wait until May, when our family was vaccinated & could safely be together. Everyday I’m faced with tragic reminders in the news about Covid and now with the Delta variant Covid deaths are increasing! I’m so angry at people who are not getting the vaccine. If only my brother had been able to get it, his life would have been saved as well as the millions of others who have died around the world. My anxiety and grief overtake more days than I would admit. Covid grief shares many aspects of general grief however there are additional factors that complicate it. You cannot step outside your house, go anywhere or watch the news without having to think about it.
    I’m sure others have experienced this as well.

  2. merlina  May 13, 2021 at 9:35 pm Reply

    My mom’s death shattered the Universe split then broken into a billion lost fragments. She was my true north. My very best friend cradle to grave. What people said to me was horrific. “YOU SHOULD HAVE SAVED HER”…SHE WASN’T AS STRONG SHE COULD HAVE TRIED HARDER…SHE GAVE UP…LOST HER COURAGE”. The memories of the people saying these cruel remarks keep me angry and hollow. My mother was brave, she loved so many and gave much to the world. I live her more each day.

  3. Lori Williams  April 23, 2021 at 10:17 am Reply

    Excellent, excellent article. You are always able to perfectly sum up so many conflicting feelings in a few paragraphs, and with no judgment of what is “right” or “wrong” on these journeys. Thank you so much for this website and for the important work you do!!!

  4. Kaz  March 31, 2021 at 4:44 pm Reply

    As the years go by Covid or no Covid, after losing my son Luke over four and a half years ago Life can never be “normal.” With people now feeling more grief and loss with Covid, I was already there before with mine, nothing has changed personally for me. Just maybe more people are experiencing grieving and loss.

  5. Elizabeth  March 25, 2021 at 7:15 pm Reply

    Everyone is so excited for things to go “back to normal.” But for those who have lost someone things will never be normal again.

    • Mom  March 26, 2021 at 5:15 pm Reply

      Nothing will ever return to “normal” after losing a child. And when it’s a drug overdose the grief is complicated immensely. I can not step forward from August 27 2017, the day my son was murdered. One cop even had the nerve to say my son was fat and obese and I was muddying the waters of the investigation. Liar.. they never did an investigation. I did. I don’t know how to move on from that day. My anger is huge. The police could have got the killer but they were too lazy. Even my son’s dog was killed. I could go on and on but a new normal will never happen for me. Only thing I can do is pray for justice for my son and all the other parents who have lost children to overdoses. Cops in Jacksonville Florida are nasty people or the ones our family dealt with were. They weren’t even decent enough to call us when he died. Our youngest son got a message on Facebook from the evil one’s sister. How can a mother process such horror?

      • VANESSA  April 24, 2021 at 8:50 am

        Mom, I understand exactly as my view of the world has never been normal
        since my 20 yr old daughter failed to come home 14 year ago. The cops found her dead after 5 wks,the press have been appalling,the judgement,crititising, blaming the victjms.its all about the killer,not us parents ongoing trauma .pain.Its not
        fair how some people sail through life +
        reach old age with no traumas,just perfect life with perfect memories+that will never be us,X X

  6. Candace  March 24, 2021 at 12:25 am Reply

    Having lost my mother Jan 17 2021 to COVID, the mask mandate being lifted in Texas made things very weird for me. It’s still hard to accept my mother passed of COVID, she had no “familiar” symptoms. But that’s what her death certificate states. When they announced the mask mandate was being lifted, I thought wow. If only she would have made it through a few more months. It felt as though COVID was gone and now masks were gone too. Just felt so strange. My family and I did so well over the shut down, and then the year started out dreadfully shitty. I lost my mom. As much as I want the world to return to it’s “normal state” I fear forgetting her, I fear forgetting to honor those who lost a loved one or lost something else during the pandemic. It’s true like you stated, the world goes on regardless.

    • Lisa  June 20, 2021 at 10:07 pm Reply

      My condolences to you. I lost my mom to covid on 1/4/21. As you said, we were careful throughout the shut down too – then it hit out of nowhere. The sadness of our loved ones dying alone. The helplessness was overwhelming. Our worlds will never be the same. Prayers for you.

      • Maureen  August 6, 2021 at 4:49 pm

        I am sorry to read the posts by Lisa, Candace, Elizabeth and others who have lost a person they loved to Covid.
        Everyday, someone is debating wearing masks & getting vaccinated. It adds to my frustration and sadness over the loss of my brother. It keeps his death right in the center of daily life….there’s no getting away from the Covid issues. I wish that it was different; that people were more compassionate to one another and that people could “see” that this awful disease knows no boundaries and can hit any of us at anytime. I’m starting over reading all of my grief books, including Alan Wolfelt’s book The Wilderness of Grief and Meg Devine’s, book It’s OK That You’re Not OK. Searching for healing. Trusting my faith will guide me to the right message.

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