• Westlake Psych

Grieving the Loss of Normalcy

I woke up on day 6 of quarantining inside with my kids and husband on March 15, which is unbelievably about a month ago now. Bleary-eyed and in search of coffee creamer, my eyes were met with lists on the front of the refrigerator: my kids’ respective after school routines, and activities broken down by days of the week (soccer practice, piano lessons, dance lessons).  I was hit by an unexpected pang of deep, deep sadness.  After settling in with some coffee and kids and dogs and the cat and husband, I was able to find a little time to process, and it hit me: I am, like all of the rest of us, grieving the loss of normalcy.  The loss of the mundane.  Just the day to day grind of it all, without the overlay of fear, isolation, and confusion.  Yes, the laundry still piles up, and the kids still fight, but I can no longer escape to the office, or say to them, why don’t you go outside and see if the neighbors want to come play in the treehouse, or make mud pies, or do an art project together.   But in the days that followed, we did our best to embrace this unexpected, extended spring break from school as extra time to focus on our family, spend time together, and work on hobbies together. 

So the next week, the kids and I wrote a song about COVID and recorded it. That was great—we felt accomplished and we had some fun.  And then later that week, we started writing messages to our neighbors in chalk on the driveway and sidewalk—encouraging things like, “stay inside”, “stay safe”, and “we miss you”.  And the following week, or was it the week after that, we wrote letters to our friends and relatives, then rode our bikes down to the nearest mail drop box for an outing.  That’s the day we discovered that the empty bank parking garage makes for an excellent, shaded/dry area to practice our scootering and biking. So that bought us another few days. 

It’s where I snapped the picture shown, not intending it to be as lonesome and stark as it turned out to be.But in black and white, it really captured the sense of surreal tension and isolation that was beginning to seep into what had become our everyday life.

And now I don’t know what day it is, and we are still here. Still trying our best to be soldiers and reframing our being stuck at home as being safe at home, with each other, and counting our blessings to be healthy and not without anything we need (even if we don’t run out to the store to buy ice cream for chocolate milkshakes on a whim anymore, or run out to the store to buy much of anything, period).  But I still get those pangs every now and again—and as the time stretches on, I see around me a nation who is grieving. The loss of graduation ceremonies, weddings being canceled or postponed, funeral services unable to occur as they normally would due to limits on numbers of people allowed to gather.  So many losses.  And these are the losses of those of us enduring the best-case scenario.  There are so many thousands who are grieving the loss of loved ones due to COVID-19, and unable to gather with their loved ones to process their loss.  There are countless medical and first responders who are traumatized from all that they have seen and heard, and who are grappling with how to keep their sanity while also coping with the reality of potentially exposing their loved ones to the virus. Then there is the very real loss of jobs, housing, and food security for the millions of newly unemployed in this country alone.

Sometimes it all seems so heavy and so inescapable, it seems impossible to cope.  And just like the grief we experience from death, this is also very much beyond any of our individual control.  I cannot control the hordes of teenagers I have witnessed swimming together in the nearby creek, but I can control how close I allow them to get to me and my children. I can’t control the policy or lack of policy put into place by those of authority, but I can control my adherence to what experts say is best. I can’t control people’s responses during this time of national emergency, but I can in part control my own.  Long ago I limited my own access to breaking news and news media in general. I stay informed by reading/reviewing a few limited sources at the end of each day…but not too close to bedtime.  I have reorganized some of the spaces in my home.  I have relished the joy of disinfecting all the most commonly touched surfaces in my home….and our cars after a rare trip to pick up essentials.  I have taken up playing the piano again.  And I have escaped into senseless, mind-numbing reality television (hello, Tiger King).  I have chosen not to stress too much about certain aspects of my child-rearing during these difficult times—for instance, if my child does not finish all the homeschooling assignments, he and I will decide how to bring it to his teacher to discuss.  That pushback I was getting about yesterday’s math assignment could very well be his attempt to do the thing I am suggesting to us all here: to obtain some measure of control over the tsunami of changes that have broken over us all. 

Which brings me to what I would like to emphasize above everything else in this writing: the power of compassion—not just to others, but to ourselves.  The many, many daily “failures” as a parent while struggling to either work from home, or apply for unemployment, are opportunities to model self-compassion and humility—that it’s ok to be wrong, to be human, to make mistakes, and to feel strange and somewhat unanchored in this new world we all find ourselves in.  That big flub you made during the Zoom meeting at work when your dog busted into your home office and you had to hurriedly chase him back outside? You just showed your humanity, and depending upon how fast your brain was working that morning, you may have managed to demonstrate your humorous side with a witty quip when you came back into the frame.  For with everything that is happening today, if there’s one thing that we are reminded of over and over again, it’s the common element in all of this that unites us: our humanity. We all have people we love and people (and probably pets) who love us.  We are all subject to the threat posed by a worldwide pandemic.  We are all subject to the strength or weakness of our immune systems. We are all just flesh and bone. And at the end of it all, it’s up to each of us to find purpose, connection, and meaning during these strange and frightening times when grief and loss abounds. 

Written by Dr. Shanna Reeves as seen on

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