Anticipatory grief in the time of a global pandemic is focused on the sudden loss of security. Anticipatory grief is that gut feeling we get about what the future holds, when uncertainty reigns. We are grieving in anticipation of the loss we expect will happen. We are circling the center of grief before the loss has occurred. When a spouse knows that her husband will die, she anticipates the grief well in advance, in hopes that it won’t hit as hard. But, inevitably, it does hit hard, whether you anticipate the loss or not. The uncertainty and powerlessness over security in a global pandemic, builds into anticipatory grief and makes us catastrophize. This uncertainty in our future, increases the fears of helplessness that leads us to spiral into a deep hole of anxiety. We have lost our virtual safety net and we are frightened, scared, and to top it all off, sheltering in place in seclusion. Widows know that grief is isolating, but living under quarantine exacerbates the agony of loneliness.
The word trauma is derived from the Greek word meaning wound. The Greeks meant it more in the physical sense. But in this pandemic, trauma deals with our emotional wounds as well. This is not PTSD. This is trauma in the here and now, and we are experiencing our trauma over and over again. We see the news and our trauma increases tenfold. We speak to friends and hear of how many people are sick, and we are terrified.
In addition to our anticipatory grief, we have ambiguous losses. As widows, we need to look forward to events that bring together family and friends. We know our safety is precarious but we also miss the social interaction of events, dinners, and touching those we love. Social distancing has hit us hard. We are anticipating the loss of our planned vacations, canceled dinner parties, graduations, or weddings. We grieve these losses profoundly. We have lost our personal freedom to move about in public; our job; our income; and the ability to touch others. We are feeling the losses over and over again and it takes a toll on our psyche.
Despite the fact that our losses are deep and heartfelt, we know that there are a few things we can do to lessen the pain. We know life is really unfair and cruel, but we also know how to marshal our resources to find our way through the sadness. We have come through the loss of our spouses, so we have faith that we can move forward through the inner strength that we discovered after our trauma.
Here are a few suggestions to help widows, widowers, or any of us feeling the anticipation of grief:
- Turn off the news! The stress of watching aggravates to the max. Instead watch old movies or good shows on Netflix like Unorthodox, Vanity Fair on Amazon Prime, or Mrs. America on Hulu.
- Phone a friend, Face Time a friend, or Zoom with friends or family. Keep in contact emotionally via your computer, phone or tablet. I regularly visit my friend in New York via Face Time and we even have a cocktail or two while we are recounting the tales of our boring days. Alcohol consumption is up 50 percent for good reason.
- Meditate and breathe through the angst. Again, no news in the background. Only wind chimes, or woo woo music acceptable.
- Play Words With Friends, or other games with pals on the internet. Text messages to your opponents like “good word,” “how are you coping,“ or “oops you opened a triple for me, thanks!”
- Exercise, exercise, exercise! We know that exercise boosts positivity. Go for a walk with a mask; find a yoga class on the internet; or just do push-ups or exercises in your home.
- Find a fun project like making your own masks out of bandanas. https://www.wkyc.com/article/entertainment/television/programs/whats-new/how-to-make-your-own-face-mask-if-you-dont-ave-a-sewing-machine/95-eaaa5823-eda2-460b-9aa0-218276b808d7
- Make a list of projects for the day. Hey, my list starts with taking a shower! Give yourself a manicure or a pedicure; sort your sock drawer; bake bread (if you can score some flour and yeast); and clean, clean, clean!
- Express your emotions openly! This crisis has shown us we must show our appreciation for others in the here and now! Send flowers to a friend. Remember you are keeping local florists afloat.
- Share five things that make you grateful each day. It can be a meatball sandwich or the fact that you have survived to see another day in this pandemic.
- Smile at people on your walks. I promise you won’t weird them out. They expect you to wave.
- Clarify your priorities. Don’t sweat the small stuff.
- Heal your relationships. Show little kindnesses to one another.
- Keep your diet healthy. Good luck with this one. OK, try not to stress eat!
- Get enough sleep even though this might be the hardest task of all!
- Try to shape your attitude towards a more positive tone. If you limit the amount of news watched, this is an easier task.
- Show your love. Let someone you care for know that you love them and are thankful they are in your life.
“The most important thing in life is to learn how to give out love, and to let it come in.”
– Morrie Schwartz
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