As we continue to navigate through these strange times, a consistent thing that I’m hearing from people I speak with is that their grief seems to have gone into hiding. It’s not that it’s completely gone, or that they don’t think about their loved one on a regular basis, but that grief feels less ‘sharp’. We’re trying to adjust to everything else, and also having to get used to this change in grief.
Feelings of Guilt
When we are grieving, especially once the shock wears off after the first few weeks or months, grief becomes our primary focus. Physically, we may not be able to sleep, eat (or eat more than before) or have difficulty focusing on basic tasks. Our ability to remember simple things may be compromised. Emotionally, we may cry a lot–sometimes out of the blue (grief bursts). We may experience flashbacks to the time when the death occurred as our brains try to come to terms with what happened. However, we may not be having feelings of guilt.
Now guilt seems to be a common feeling. Guilt that we’re not feeling as ‘sad’ as we were before we were forced to deal with the repercussions of COVID-19. Guilt that we’re not thinking about our loved one as much. Guilt that maybe we’re not honouring our ‘person’ anymore.
While these thoughts and feelings are understandable, there is a reason for this change to our grief behaviours.
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs
There are five levels in the hierarchy: physiological (i.e. those needed by our physical body), safety, love/belonging, esteem, and self-actualization.
The original hierarchy states that a lower level must be completely satisfied and fulfilled before moving onto a higher pursuit. However, today scholars prefer to think of these levels as continuously overlapping each other. This means that the lower levels may take precedence back over the other levels at any point in time.
Where Grief and Maslow Meet
Right now we are adjusting to a ‘new normal’. For many of us, much of our time and energy is going into figuring out how to meet our basic physiological and safety needs. How do I get groceries and basic supplies? Watching social media, and the constant updates on ways to protect ourselves and loved ones from the virus, safety becomes a primary concern. These two areas overlap when a trip to the store feels as if we’re putting our health at risk.
I suggest that grief is a higher-level activity. Grieving takes up a lot of mental, physical and emotional energy–energy that we don’t have at this point. Trauma will trump grief every time–and for some of us, these are traumatic times. That is why grief appears to be hiding.
Where Did Grief Go?
While the grief process is really hard and not something that we would choose to experience, from a guilt perspective, it may be comforting to know that our grief is still there waiting for us. Once we have mastered our current reality, or life has returned to normal, grief will resurface. At this point, it’s not clear if we will take it up where we left off or us/it will have changed into something else. This is new territory.
What I do know is that we are not dishonouring our loved ones because grief has changed or is on a hiatus. We still love and miss our person. We continue to remember them. We may even be striving to incorporate lessons they have taught us as we learn new ways to be in the world.
So, with everything else to cope with, please let yourself off the grief hook and be kind to yourself.
And now for a timely lesson from MASH…Enjoy!