Healing. But First, Grieving

Individually and collectively we need a time of healing, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. 2020, the Year of the Metal Rat, has been a year like no other. The multiple upheavals and uncertainties have taken a large toll on us. We need a time for grieving all that we have lost and continue to lose. Not only the hundreds of thousands of Americans who have already died of COVID-19, but also the mounting job losses, increases in domestic violence, gun-related violence, and social isolation, especially for our elderly and other high-risk people. As we enter the darkest days of the year here in the Northern Hemisphere, alongside a second wave of COVID-19 infections and deaths, we need ways of staying hopeful, strong, resilient, and resistant.

What we are experiencing is not simple grief. It is complicated grief. As the Mayo Clinic writers put it, “Complicated grief is like being in an ongoing, heightened state of mourning that keeps you from healing.” Risk factors for complicated grief include social isolation, past history of depression and PTSD, adverse childhood experiences, and other stressors like financial hardships. Medical treatment for complicated grief includes, not surprisingly, grief counseling and cognitive-behavioral counseling. But other treatment interventions known to build resilience and lessen the negative effects of complicated grief are arts-based therapies, narrative storytelling, and other meaning-making activities.

The feminist environmental health and justice writer Terry Tempest Williams, said recently in an interview with Pam Houston, referring to both the very real effects from climate collapse (fires in the West and unrelenting hurricanes in the South) and the pandemic, “We haven’t grieved for it, for the people lost, and if you don’t think that won’t come back at us sideways (well, you’re wrong).”

Key references/sources:

Martha Kent , Mary C. Davies, “Resilience Training for Action and Agency to Stress and Trauma: Becoming the Hero of Your Own Life,” in The Resilience Handbook, eds. Kent, Davies, and Reich, (Routledge, 2013), 227-44.

Josephine Ensign, Soul Stories: Voices from the Margins, (University of California Medical Humanities Press, 2018).

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