By Lauren Cain, M.A.
As the world attempts to “flatten the curve,” many celebrations, important events, and pivotal milestones are being put on hold – or worse, cancelled. Often, these events signify achievements we’ve worked toward for years, or significant once-in-a-lifetime celebrations. On top of the loss of these happy events, we’re also losing the chance to grieve together at funerals or celebrations of life in ways that feel meaningful to us.
How do we grapple with the news that we can’t have the celebrations or gatherings we imagined? How can we grieve the loss of something or someone important to us when many of the ways we normally would are no longer possible?
It is natural to feel the pain and disappointment of these events being canceled, or not looking the way you’d hoped. But beating yourself up for feeling upset won’t make things any easier, nor will trying to force yourself into seeing the silver linings. It’s important to let yourself grieve as you adapt to this new reality. Here are some ways you can start:
Acknowledge your emotions
It is okay to feel sad, angry, impatient, or even relieved during this time. There is no wrong or right way to feel and any emotion you experience is valid and worth noting without judgment. It can be easy to suppress or avoid emotions, especially if we see them as negative. Remember, while you don’t get to choose your emotions, you do get to decide what you do with them.
Share your experience
If you don’t have someone you feel comfortable talking to, it can be helpful to express what you’re experiencing in some other way. Do this in whatever way makes sense for you – journal, make a list, draw, scribble, dance, sing – whatever helps you get your thoughts and emotions outside of yourself.
If you do feel comfortable sharing your experience with another person, it can be useful to start off by letting them know what you need from them. Do you need advice, someone to just listen, sympathy, or something else? Our loved ones can’t read our minds, but if we make a clear request, they’re better equipped to honor our needs and less likely to say something that misses the mark.
Go at your own pace
We’ve all heard about the stages of grief – denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. A common misperception about these stages is that everyone goes through each stage in order. This is not true. On the contrary, it is common to experience one or more of these stages multiple times and in different orders. It is also true that many people begin and end at different stages and not everyone experiences each of the five.
Everybody deals with loss and grief differently and that is okay. Being in pain for longer than someone else doesn’t mean you are weak and feeling better doesn’t mean your pain wasn’t valid. Give yourself permission to follow your own process and show yourself compassion if it isn’t what you expected.
Think of creative ways to recreate what was helpful before
If face-to-face interaction is important for you to express yourself, this can be an extremely difficult time. Imagine what this form of connection looks and feels like to you. How does it feel when you are able to hug a loved one? Does is feel warm? Is it bright? Does it have a smell or a texture, maybe even a taste? There is no replacement for physical touch; however, we can try to recreate these sensations internally for some comfort.
Maybe lighting a candle and curling up in a soft blanket with warm tea can feel similar. If physical touch is more exciting for you, maybe playing your favorite music and dancing recreates this feeling. Try to understand what underlying need was being fulfilled and start to explore different ways to meet those needs, paying attention to how you feel.
Continue to celebrate
You may not be able to experience prom, graduation, your wedding, or the birth of a family member, but you can still feel joy for these accomplishments and treasured moments. No, it won’t be the same and there is no real substitution for any of these things. Instead, think about why these events are so important to you and try to honor those aspects in a new way if possible. Maybe being able to finish your last class in person was important because you could celebrate the connections you have built with your teachers and classmates. You could instead write a short note expressing your gratitude for that relationship or a fun memory you have.
Acknowledge the nuance
Oftentimes when we mourn the loss of a person or idea, we only recognize the pleasurable things we’ve fantasized about, instead of seeing the whole picture. When thinking about what’s been canceled, try to recognize the parts that wouldn’t have been so great, or the things you weren’t really excited about. Being surrounded by all of your friends and family at your wedding or commitment ceremony can be comforting and exciting. On the other hand, having to choose the guest list can be stressful and overwhelming. Allow yourself to feel sad for the moments you are missing, while also acknowledging that nothing is perfect. This can be a time where YOU get to choose how you celebrate or mourn in a way that feels right regardless of how tradition or society tells you to.
No matter what you may be missing out on, be it big or small, your emotions are valid. Take the time to check in with yourself and figure out what you need. Relying on loved ones can be extremely helpful, and there are a lot of things we can try on our own to feel a bit better too. Be honest with yourself about what’s helpful or not so helpful right now, and trust your own experience. If you would like additional support, you can contact us for individual therapy or one of our online support groups.