Six years ago, I was in the midst of the worst circumstance of my life—the death of my husband. Now, as we are collectively experiencing the worst thing our country has experienced in our lifetime, I have been constantly reminded of my grief journey.
Perhaps you can relate to what I am feeling. Heartache. Anger. Disbelief. Isolation. Discomfort. Sadness. Loss. Stress. Uncertainty. Devastation. Fear. Anxiety. Lack of control. Everything irrevocably changed in an instant. No timeline or end date. All of these are normal emotions in the crisis mode in which we find ourselves.
The emotional toll of these unprecedented circumstances feels like I am grieving all over again. There’s no point in elaborating on how distraught I am, how worried I am for all of us. You feel it too. But I have been surprised to find myself exhibiting remarkable resilience in my overall mood, spirit and energy levels on a daily basis. There is a direct connection to my grief experience, where I learned so much (and am still learning.)
Here are five of the lessons from my grief process that are helping me to cope right now:
- It’s not you, it’s the situation
The very first time I spoke with my grief counselor about my loss, she specifically told me that “it’s a crazy-making situation.” My normal life coping skills that had served me so well until then were not up to the trauma of dealing with the death of my husband. Yet I was blaming myself for not being able to “stay strong and tough it out.” I’ve never been through a pandemic before, have you? We’re challenged and devastated because our world has fallen out from underneath us. If you feel like you are struggling to handle it, well, you probably are, but it’s not because you are incapable. Quite the contrary!
- Hang on to any kind of routine for dear life
I don’t know how I found the willpower, but every day of the first year I grieved, I applied make-up daily, something I rarely had the energy for and definitely did not feel like doing. My entire day was anchored by that small gesture and helped me establish and maintain a schedule. Since self-isolation started, I’m still struggling with a consistent daily routine (it’s definitely not applying make-up) so I consider it successful if I start it with coffee, a workout and making a reasonably healthy breakfast. After that, some days are more productive than others, but my small morning routine helps keep me grounded.
- Focus primarily on what you can control
Death is the ultimate reminder of how little control we really have in our lives. I feel cancer is a close second. Apparently, coronavirus overwhelming the globe is a close third. Grief didn’t just drain my energy; it diminished my world. I only regained confidence and perspective by concentrating on my immediate environment every day—clients, gym, house, myself. The coronavirus crisis has literally reduced my controllable environment to only my home, so that’s what I am focused on—staying organized, taking care of the yard, taking pride in preparing meals as best I can. Day after day, it helps.
- Don’t deny or suppress your emotions
I thought I could get through my grief by being strong and tough, but as it turned out, I had to allow myself to feel all the feelings. This was not an easy process and I caved in many times to the depth of a wide range of emotion (see the above list)—feeling all of it fully was the only way to move through it. I know a lot of people who are in relatively stable circumstances right now but feel guilty and selfish about some of their emotions because they are better off than so many others. Whatever you feel is totally legitimate and please honor that for as long as you need to regain your perspective. All of our feelings need to be acknowledged—even if it is frustration that your vacation was canceled when so many people are losing their jobs.
- Appreciate the happy moments
There are good moments in the midst of grieving, I was surprised to find, moments where I felt so normal that I judged myself for it. Eventually I learned to savor them, because the grief would always come back with a vengeance. If you are enjoying some aspects of how your life has changed because of this crisis, that’s excellent! If you can find a silver lining, please do! Enjoy those times because all of your worries will return eventually or another circumstance will change, trust me. This is far from over and the consequences will reverberate for a long time.
Finally, I keep remembering how in the midst of my terrible grief, I never thought I would make it a year. But one year after Dan’s death, I came back to write “This too shall pass” about how I had survived so far. I was damaged, but ultimately strengthened, by my terrible grief. We, individually and collectively, as a society and country, will be damaged by this terrible disaster, but we will be ultimately strengthened, in ways we cannot yet comprehend.
This, too, shall pass.
— By Pritam Potts
Coach Pritam Potts is a writer and strength coach. After 16+ years of training athletes and clients of all ages as co-owner of Edmonds-based Advanced Athlete LLC, she now lives in Dallas, Texas. She writes about health & fitness, grief & loss, love & life at www.advancedathlete.com.