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  • Anjali Gupta

Grief Guru? I Would Pick These 2

The first time I read Victor Frankl's Man's Search For Meaning I was working for a cancer center, trying to understand the concept of hope amidst the complexity of grief. Frankl, a survivor of the horrific conditions of Nazi concentration camps, explains that prisoners who found purpose or meaning were more resilient to their environment. He found the smallest memory, nature, and humor all helped provide solace even amidst the harshest conditions. Though they are not necessarily experienced in this linear fashion, you may be aware of the 5 stages of grief: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Sadness, and Acceptance. Now David Kessler, world-renowned expert on grief, proposes meaning as the sixth stage of grief in his new book, Finding Meaning. Our current COVID-19 pandemic is resulting in losses of all proportions across the world, which in turn, has many people experiencing grief of varying magnitude. Meaning can be a positive memory you are creating, a simple act of kindness, a mindful moment in your day, and so much more. What are some helpful strategies for grief? How can we support each other through the grief?


MELISSA SELLEVAAG, Director of Training and Education at the Wendt Center for Loss and Healing

DAVID KESSLER, world renowned expert on grief and co-author with Elisabeth Kubler-Ross on Grief and Grieving: Finding the Meaning of Grief Through the Five Stages of Loss


Q & A: What is the range of things people are grieving during this pandemic?

There are a number of things people are grieving right now from the death of someone important to them to jobs to the ways we are existing (freedom, routines, schedules, structure, control) to spring rituals such as confirmations and graduations to networks we tap into (friends, teachers, etc).

Q: What are some helpful tips for people experiencing grief around this wide range of topics?

1. Try to be in tune with what your emotional capacity is day to day. This can feel differently on various days and can even change sometimes at different points within the same day.

2. Reach out to others in your network. Human connection is so important. How can you creatively find ways to connect? On a recent family bike ride, we left messages with sidewalk chalk for our neighbors. "We can't see you, but we miss you and are thinking of you."

3. Tend to self. Start small. What are the micro moments available in your day? What can you do if you have 2 minutes? As you wash your hands, feel the water on your hands, notice the soap, the smell and feel. Take that 20 seconds and tune into the moment. How can you do a pseudocommute to signify the start and end of the day? Maybe you light a candle or put music on or walk outside for a few minutes like you are walking "in" and "out" of work. Remember to drink water and remember to eat.

4. Be honest with yourself and give yourself permission to grieve. Be kind to yourself.

Q: Often when an individual experiences grief, the community rallies around them. What are your thoughts about how to support one another during a pandemic when many in the community are grieving?

The entire world is grieving right now. Everyone is impacted in some way. Usually when we are grieving there are others in our community who step in and tend to us...maybe they help with chores or with meals. But now everyone is grieving. When you have the capacity, reach out to people and connect. Let someone in your network know you need to talk. As you share how you are feeling, you may end up reducing the isolation that grief can cause.

Acknowledge how you are doing and pay attention to your bodies. Incorporate mindfulness practices and breathing routines into your day and do them with your children. Creativity takes some energy. What works one day might be harder another day. Grief ebbs and flows; it is not constant.

Q: What is the role of joy amidst grief?

Grief isn't something to get over and be done with; we learn to live with it. As we learn to live with grief, we come to realize that pain and joy co-exist in this world. In one space, you can feel two contradictory feelings in the same experience. I can be really happy at an event and really sad that the person who died isn't there to share it with me. In the context of the current pandemic, we can feel sad and frustrated that our children aren't at school but also feel joy in the moments we have with them. One feeling does not diminish or minimize the other. Just because we feel moments of joy does not mean we aren't grieving or in pain. We all need self compassion. Don't judge yourselves or each other on feelings right now.


Q & A with HBR staff and Scott Berinato:

Q & A with Brene Brown in this podcast:

Thank you to Melissa and David for the inspiration!

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