We are not used to thinking about “grief” in terms of “work.” We think of grief as being about losing a human being we love and miss. And we usually think about grief in terms of death. And if it’s not life-and-death — see how those words just run together? — then we tell ourselves it is not so important. It is not so important that we should be in pieces about it, we think.
You may not have experienced the death of a loved one, so may not recognize grief when it does come your way. Or maybe you have experienced such loss, and so when another type of grief enters your life, you might be reluctant to say it is “grief” as this other form of grief might — to your mind — diminish the “real” grief of human loss. And this is not an invalid thought. But maybe we don’t have to be so either-or about it. There can be levels of grief, types of grief. There can be both-and. Both acknowledgement that losing a human is so huge, immeasurable. And acknowledgement that life is a constant state of shifting, change… that perky GPS voice that speaks to “recalibrating”…well…maybe we should hear that voice more often in our heads.
Maybe we need to expand our personal defining of this emotional state. At its most basic, grief is about loss.
And at this point, it’s hard to imagine that not everyone is experiencing some form of loss. A friend said to me how much he misses walking without having to think about it. How simple is that — walking without thought as to where you are going, and how close you are to the person passing on the sidewalk. Now walking is about where are you going, how soon can you return home, and how far away is that person…oops, dodge…another person…can you walk between them at the right distance…? Yes, we can grieve the possibility of just going for a walk.
Another friend mentions sitting alone in her office, and the strangeness of that; this, in an otherwise active, noisy, and exciting work environment. Yes, that is strange. Silence speaks to missing; missing speaks to loss.
Several years ago, I applied for a position in my workplace. It was a position I’d wanted for many years, one I’d actively built my academic career towards. When the decision was made, the position went to an outside hire, someone younger. It was not until almost two years had passed that I began to understand the loss this represented for me. The obvious — the salary to see my youngest sons through school — that we undertook in a pragmatic way, and all was not particularly thrown. Really, it was the seemingly smaller things: the loss of particular courses to teach; the loss of certain types of connections; the loss of certain types of students…the list goes on…the loss of passing a certain age, certainly. It was shocking to me, one day, to realize that what I felt over the loss of this thing that I’d never really had (I’d done the work, but never had the job), was Grief. How could that be? I’d lost my spouse just before the interview process, and it was so easy to slide one piece of my reality into the other, and not isolate the emotions around each. Let alone apply the same name to those emotions. But it was grief. Why did it take me so long to see this, and then to let myself feel it?
And now we have grief en masse. Thousands losing their jobs, thousands losing — if not their jobs — then the way in which they have gone about their work. What is it to grieve your commuting time, if it is also the time when you plug yourself into your audio books and put your head back, close your eyes…if that is your “me” time in your long day…? HOW do you explain that to someone? The person who hands you your mug of coffee every morning, and the brief exchange…you don’t even know this person’s name, but you are missing their “Good morning!” smile. Children have said goodbye to school-teachers they might never see again. The library…my goodness, how I miss the library! I grieve the ease of walking in and selecting my books and a DVD for the weekend.
So now there are new things. I remind myself of the positives. Throughout the day I see a parade of dogs on my street. I see people I had no idea lived in the apartment block across it. I am enjoying the quieter street at night. I am taking part in the pot-banging thank yous for our medical care workers at 7 pm. I am appreciative of the extra writing time I suddenly have. And minutely, I am grateful for my health, and for the health of my family and loved ones. I am so aware of not taking for granted. But even as I look at the positives — and dare to hope that collectively we will hold on to some of these when this time comes to a close — I still have to acknowledge the shadow of grief. It is here, hanging over us.
Disenfranchised grief. The grief that no one knows what to do with, or how to talk about. Or often, we don’t even allow ourselves to think of it as grief. But consider the grief that comes with miscarriage…especially when no one around you is even aware you were pregnant… or the grief of losing someone who is still alive, the grief of a broken relationship. The grief of lost opportunity.
Loss can have something solid and tangible to it. Or it can be the loss of a thought, a feeling, an emotional hold. Loss of way of life.
It is significant to acknowledge loss. Even as we embrace change and rebirth into new times in our lives. We must acknowledge loss and how it affects us. So that we can move on.