Grieving Normal: 5 Strategies for Life in the Time of Coronavirus
EDITOR’S NOTE: The same day I published this post, the Harvard Business Review also posted an article on grief. Gather strategies wherever you can, but come back here for your final read. 😇
Remember New Year’s Eve?
We celebrated the start of a new year and a new decade with energy, optimism, vision and plans. There was so much we were going to do this year. I had launched a virtual mastermind program in October, and by January 1st, the 12 women in it were celebrating a head start on the year, happy with what they’d already achieved even before the new decade began.
I myself was crashing. I’d been pushing myself ruthlessly to launch that program – through physical pain, discouragement, numbness – as long as I could. I had no idea what it was costing me until, exhausted, depleted, heavy-hearted, I was forced to stop. I had no choice but to step back from the marketing machine I was caught up in, get quiet and listen to my body and the still small voice within me. And I’ve been there ever since: three months of emotional rehab for this workaholic for whom there was never enough. I finally had permission to rest.
Today (just three months later), we are all being forced to this stop. In a matter of weeks, dreams have been shattered, hopes smashed, jobs lost, portfolios depleted; and the very fabric of our global society is torn from end to end.
Do you feel what I feel?
If you took time to name your feelings just through the past week, which of these would you choose? (check all that apply)
An Experience Named Grief
This week I recognized the experience I’m having as Grief – something I had first named 25 years ago when my mother died: the heavy, weary, foggy, pointless feeling that penetrates your entire being – body, mind, spirit and heart – and stops you in your thick, sticky tracks. And what I’m witnessing in my clients, students and friends around the globe is a collective grief for life as we knew it, which is suddenly, abruptly gone.
So what can you expect in times of coronaviral grief? Swiss-American psychiatrist Elizabeth Kubler-Ross proposed five stages of grief, which she observed in patients with terminal illness,. Kubler-Ross’s stages are not necessarily proven (or linear), but I believe they can help us now to make sense of our not-so-brave new world even as we grieve our lifetime experience of Normal.
Five Stages of Grief
- Denial. “This can’t be true. It’s not as bad as they say. It’s a hoax. It’s happening to them, but it could never happen to me.” When your mind simply can’t make sense of this much change this fast, it’s natural to reject it, doubt it, project it outside yourself. Being certain this could not be happening to you gives you comfort… for a while.
- Anger. When Denial fails – as is happening very quickly now – Anger is likely to follow. “It’s a foreign virus. It’s their fault. It’s manmade. It’s a conspiracy.” You feel anxious, irritable, and frustrated. You’re angry at the systems that allowed this, the unfairness of it all, and the sheer inconvenience (just when you were about to launch your dream project). You may be looking for people to blame.
- Depression. Then it sinks in. “Life will never look the way it did. There’s nothing I can do to change it. Everything I counted on is now in question. Where do I turn? My world is crashing down on me. What’s the point of trying! Nothing I do will make a difference now. And I’m so tired.” The reality is overwhelming, and you feel acutely the powerlessness of one human against an invisible, earth-shattering enemy.
- Bargaining. Like a drowning person gasping for air, you lunge forward with resistance. “If only… I boost my immune system, I keep away from crowds, stay in the country house, then I’ll be okay. I won’t get this. So far I don’t know anyone personally who has it, so God is watching over me. It is surely ‘the end days’ so I know I’ll be safe in the end.” But the results are short-lived. Your fate is still the same. So how to you make meaning from it?
- Acceptance. In the end, what happens next is just a choice: continue to suffer or accept reality. Once that choice is made, a deep inner calm sets in. “Okay, this is it. Now what? What will I do with this inarguable reality? Who will I become through it? What will my life look like on the other side?” Once you can accept what you can’t change, you can gather your energy to change what you can. If you do not, the Crisis deepens.
What do we do now?
The first time I was housebound for four months was in 2009 when I broke my hip. I had returned to Nice from England the night before, and the next afternoon (with low blood sugar from not eating) I headed out to buy groceries. I misjudged the height of the curb across from my apartment; and I landed directly on my hip. I tried to have faith, but my leg was dangling beneath me. I waited for the paramedics to arrive and, with shock setting in, I thought to myself: “Okay, if this is what’s next, let’s go.” I chose it. That choice transformed the quality of my life for the rest of that very difficult year.
We too are in for a difficult year. The world is in Crisis. Leaders around the world are scrambling to try to prevent all-out Chaos. People are dying! What can we do individually to take care of ourselves and to ensure the human race emerges whole?
Making Sense of Crisis & Chaos
There is guidance in the Wheel of Creativity® (my 12-stage framework of creative transformation), which I’d like to share with you now in five simple points. The Wheel maps the process you will go through when anything in your life is ending, and you’re called to create what’s next from its remnants.
- Home. Home is Normal… the status quo. It represents all that is known, comfortable, predictable, controlled and stable. It’s your comfort zone. Let’s face it, we’d all stay there if we could. But when something happens –internally or externally – that destabilizes you, something (Hunger) calls you forward and launches you into a transformational creative cycle. This cycle takes you through 12 stages as you make your way from life-as-you-knew-it to life-as-it-could-be. Some of these stages are easier than others. But they’re all required.
- Crisis. Halfway through the cycle, when you finally believe that what you long for – your dream, your vision, your new life – is within reach, then comes the perfect storm. Out of the blue, unexpected, no way to have prepared for it, something crashes down on top of you so violently that you feel completely out of control. In this moment of panic, survival depends on your letting go of everything to focus on this moment. And when you finally do, in flows the crystal clarity that shows you the way through.
- Chaos. That kind of letting go creates space, what remains when Life has blown the roof off your home. In Chaos everything is unknown, uncomfortable, unpredictable, uncontrolled and unstable. It’s the opposite of Home. But it is also – as science tells us – the birthplace of all new life. Here is where we must begin again, when the past we loved can no longer be recycled. (Coincidentally, this exactly where my mastermind group is in the program right now!)
- Dissolution. If it all feels a bit rocky at the moment, don’t be surprised. Creation and destruction are inextricably linked. The entire first half of the cycle – from Home to Chaos – is the dissolution of life as you knew it. Life brings you to the end of what you thought you knew. And it leaves you there, waiting in the gaping void of Chaos, vulnerable (and open to receive). But this is not the end.
- Creation. From Chaos, you begin the second half of the journey of creation. If you were able to capture the seed in Crisis – something new, unforeseen and unimagined – you begin the growing process. Six more stages are required to grow that seed into a viable new business, creative work, social enterprise, healthy body, system, you name it. You’re making your way to a new Normal. As you complete the cycle, you return Home with something entirely new. And you yourself are transformed by the process.
What I’d like to share with you (what I hope you’ll see in this cycle) is that where you find yourself today is not The End. Reality is changing almost every day, and we don’t know where we’re headed. The sooner you accept that and focus on the things you can change, the more time you have to create a reality that nourishes you.
The Pivoting Power of GRIEF
Now is the time to be conscious and deliberate about how we use our collective grief. How can you use this global Crisis experience and begin to create something with it? Here are five suggestions.
- Give this time. Whatever you’re feeling right now is okay. Take a deep breath and accept your response right in this moment. Your body, your mind, your heart are making sense of the nonsensical. Give them time.
- Respect the process. Know that you’re going through a process, and the timing of it depends on more than you can control. You will feel waves of many kinds of feelings, and they are all to be embraced.
- Inhale the life around you. Make space in your days for new ways of doing things… for feelings, for strength, for rest, for self-care. Set limits around your devices. Connect with virtually people who nourish you. Walk in Nature.
- Embrace change. Choose this now. Educate yourself about the cause of your grief. Develop new skills. Empower yourself for whatever comes. Step into the technologies that allow you to stay connected and to do your work in new ways.
- Forge ahead. This entire world is in a major reset now. And we have little choice but to reset our lives too. How you do that – emotionally, spiritually, mentally and physically – will determine who you become through it and what your life looks like on the other side. The quality of your life today lies in the balance.
To connect with your own inner resilience during this time, and your natural creative problem-solving power, take my Seven Day Calm, Creative Challenge. Just download my Daily Centering Meditation and follow my email guidelines for seven days to deepen your personal calm and awaken your creative mind.