Melody Charles-Van Der Werff, MA, LCPC" />

From Loss to Lament to Meaning: Coping within Covid

I hesitated, my index finger hovering haltingly over the “Cancel flights” button, the click that would undo six months of joyful, hope-filled anticipation of visiting my brother and his wife before their daughter and first child would be born. I already knew that following my niece’s birth I wouldn’t see them for some time given hospital and health restrictions already necessitated by the Covid-19 crisis, recently struck.  I had long looked forward to celebrating this exciting milestone for them, among my dearest family, to accompany them to the threshold of first-time parenthood, a moment that would never repeat itself quite in this way.  And then my finger came down and I pressed the button, my emotions a twisted knot of resolved knowing and inexpressible sadness of what I was relinquishing.  The trip to Oklahoma City wouldn’t happen after all.  I wouldn’t get to experience their celebration in person, nor meet my niece until she was months old at best.  Wouldn’t get to participate in all those firsts with their family.  I felt the cost that difficult decisions for personal, familial and public safety required within those early days of being hit by the Coronavirus.  And this was only the first of many a heartrending decision of its kind yet to come for me and for my family in the months ahead.  For many, if not most of us, our losses and required adjustments have indeed been costly and deeply painful.

And then what?  Is this where the sad and painful reality of life within a worldwide pandemic ends?  Is this the new plot line and emotional tenor of our lives for the foreseeable future?  Do we dare hope and consider hoping-for when constant uncertainty abounds as far as the eye can see?  When the horizon contains seemingly little to buoy or pull our sense of hope forward?  Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said that “…Only when it is dark enough can you see the stars.”  What application does this have to life within Covid?  And how do we even get to the place of experiencing hope, let alone joy, let alone finding meaning (perhaps the suggested “stars”) amidst such darkness as this, with which so many of us relate?  We grieve.  We feel the emotions of loss and we engage them.  We acknowledge them and allow them to take up space.  In so doing we honor the value and significance of the things, of the Ones, we have lost or lost connection to.  David Kessler adds to the groundbreaking work of Elisabeth Kubler-Ross around the human grief process in his own book entitled “Finding Meaning: The Sixth Stage of Grief”.  He aptly suggests that as we move through the emotions and natural psychological processes or “stages” of grief, we emerge to a place of being able to reconcile through making new meaning out of our loss.  No, our loss doesn’t lose its sting or the thing we’ve lost it’s significance to our hearts, but new things emerge in our landscape of loss.  And they can help us experience a new kind of internal peace, even resolve.  Even joy, as C.S. Lewis suggests in his writings on grief in “A Grief Observed”.  Lament, synonymous with grief or mourning, is a concept long in existence with which humans of all civilizations and historical periods have grappled amidst loss and crisis, some cultures embracing it as a necessary step toward personal and communal fulfillment and even spiritual significance.  Ancient manuscripts detail songs, prayers and expressions of human lament.  It appears the human road to healing requires grief and lament engagement.  And this is where meaning, hope and even joy can begin to emerge.

So what is grief?  What is lament? Is it, simply put, the experience of loss and our accompanying emotions?  Is it the way we engage or feel our feelings?  Is it something some of us experience in response to loss, tragedy or trauma?  Is it perhaps a commonly shared link between all humans as we live life, in the mundane and in the dramatic?  It is all of these.  Grief is an awareness of our attachment to something or someone that has been altered or changed in some fundamental way, perhaps lost altogether.  In these months contending with Covid-19 there has been much loss afoot for many of us, if not all of us, in some form.  We have lost many if not most–if not all–of our norms and typical rhythms, the structures that define our day, our lives and our relationships.  And certainly our rhythms of access to people and resources which sustain and carry us through our days, through our weeks, our months and our very lives.  These have been suddenly and fundamentally changed, some of them never to be relived or recaptured, like a college graduation.  A long-awaited wedding.  The birth of a new baby and subsequent gathering of family and friends to welcome the arrival and support the new family.  The loved one who had to be hospitalized without companionship.  The loved one in such a condition who passed away in the hospital unaccompanied.  And many, many more such examples of loss, from the daily and mundane to the significant and profound.  And what links them is that they all have significance to us as human beings.  There is cost and there is impact, and therefore we grieve.  We register and feel the cost, the impact.  This is how we grieve.  David Kessler says, “If you don’t feel it you can’t heal it”, and he adds that as we give space to and process the emotions and begin to heal, “somewhere along the way gratitude” comes into view and new meaning begins to emerge, even hope, perhaps even joy.

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