Are We in Mourning?

Sorry we're closed

An art installation in Bombay Beach, Salton Sea, California

Martin Banks
December 7th, 2020

This photo is dystopian, I know. It's not that I am trying to bring you down. I'm just feeling that the reality of our world needs to be recognized. The truth is, We Are Closed; again.
I live in California where, starting today, we are once again under stay-at-home orders as the pandemic rages on. My family had take-out food for dinner last night. When we went to pick it up, the restaurant owner was visibly pissed about his dining room being closed again, for who knows how long. No one can blame him for being upset. We are all upset. Ultimately, he is pissed off at the virus that is causing us to do things we never thought we would do. It's not fair. Unfortunately, the virus doesn't know about fairness, and it will do whatever it wants to do.

Many of us see a future of what is lost and that of our dreams crumbling away. Unfortunately, it's hard for many of us to see an outcome any different than the photo above represents. People look to the future and project what they want it to be like or what it seems it will be like. Things don't look so good right now.

Nine months into the American version of the pandemic, most of us are mourning for the future we planned for, and is now lost. This is hard. It is hard to understand, it is difficult to process, and it is challenging to accept. There is no easy out for the situation we are in. We have to face it and deal with it if we want to find a better life on the other side of this pandemic. As a nation, we don't have a recent experience to teach us how to navigate our way through these tough circumstances. Right now, all we can do is collectively mourn the loss of our lives that we knew pre-pandemic. The mourning and grief are what we will be doing at least until a new-normal sets in.

Maybe you can recognize the stage of grief and mourning you are in. It can help to put a label on it and know that everyone is going through these phases of emotion. It is generally accepted that there are five stages of grief and that the boundaries between them are vague. Some people may not experience all of them, and there is no particular order to having these emotions.
Denial is where a lot of us were back in March and April. The pandemic isn't really happening, or maybe it is, but we'll be okay, and nothing will change much. This is usually the first stage of grieving, we deny that what is happening is actually happening.
Anger is the stage of grief our friend the restaurant owner is experiencing. He is mad to see everything he worked toward for so many years slowly fading away. Who would blame him? Maybe you are angry. Angry that you can't visit your family or go to the ball game. It's okay to be angry, for a while at least.
Bargaining is the stage where we cut deals to try and minimize our losses. We hope that if we just deny ourselves some things for a while, we can get out of this without suffering. Think of a smoker who makes a bargain to quit cigarettes if they survive cancer. They may survive cancer, or not. Bargaining is a way to cope.
For the people that the pandemic has affected the most, there is depression. I do not want to understate this. This is the point where things get real, and the loss is undeniably significant. It is the loss of a job, a home, a business, and most regrettably, the loss of a loved one; that brings reality into focus and causes a profound sadness. Depression is real, and it's a hard place to be. There is no "snapping out of it" or "pulling yourself up by the bootstraps." If you can't find a way out of it, there is no shame or judgment in asking for help from a professional. Make the call and find someone that can help.
Acceptance is the stage of grief where we face reality and choose to move on with what remains. We may still feel sad or have regrets, but the denial, anger, depression, and bargaining fade into the background. It is a matter of internally acknowledging that we have lost someone or something meaningful and important.

Grief is highly personnel, and even trying to write about it regarding the pandemic feels very presumptuous. I recognize that I have had it easy so far. That is not to minimalize my experience. It is to acknowledge that everyone's experience is different, and there are vastly varying degrees of suffering and senses of loss. To learn more about the process of mourning, google "the five stages of loss."

Sometimes it's hard to imagine that the future won't look like the photo above. It's going to be challenging to get on the other side of this thing. Once we are there, however, there will be hope to build our lives back to something better than before. Optimism will return. And it's okay to mourn what we have lost. Give yourself permission to do that.

Thanks for reading