Viral Grief

By: Dottie Menkhaus

Living through the coronavirus pandemic among pieces of our shattered world has been difficult and exhausting. I have often struggled to make sense of our new way of life. I have felt angry, depressed, fearful, hopeless, and frustrated. I often wonder if the pandemic will ever end.

Everything clicked when I named my feeling “grief.” But how could I grieve if I haven’t lost anyone? 

Grief is more than the death of a loved one. Grief can come from any type of loss. All of humanity is collectively grieving together right now. We grieve the loss of life as we knew it. We grieve our normal routines, events, and milestones. We miss our jobs, sports, friends, and family that we can no longer safely see. We may also grieve loved ones lost to the virus itself.

The five stages of grief are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. At the beginning of the pandemic, I was in denial. Everything is shutting down? Surely this isn’t happening. It can’t be this bad! 

I was jolted from denial to reality by the empty shelves throughout the grocery store. It felt like something ominous was on the horizon. I felt anger. I had experienced a great 2019, and 2020 held even better promise. I had begun filling my calendar with fun things, and now I can’t do any of them! At some point fear crept in. I bargained that if I stayed in my small bubble of home, work, and getting food at a local small restaurant, then I’d be spared from the virus. I’ve also prayed that I’d do anything, if God keeps my loved ones safe. 

Depression soon settled in. As cases and deaths skyrocket around the country and the months drag on, I’ve realized that this isn’t ending anytime soon. I will be spending more holidays alone with my cat. It will be a long time before anyone can safely hug me. It will be a long time before I can play cards and games with my family and friends. I am grateful that I still see and interact with my coworkers, but it isn’t the same. I miss biking and cooking with my best friend, hearing my friends play music, participating in my church group, playing trivial pursuit with my dad, and playing cards with my uncle. It’s the loss of these interactions that I grieve the most that reduces me to tears. It would be easy to throw caution to the wind and pretend the virus isn’t lurking in our midst, but I love these people too much to risk the possibility of them catching it.

I have not yet reached the acceptance stage of grief. I am still processing how to live with our current circumstances. I still feel hopeless at times, wondering if this pandemic will ever stop. During one of those times recently, a friend reminded me that, just like the Spanish flu a century ago, this too will pass. For now I have to learn to adapt to the current circumstances, and keep myself healthy. I also have to remember that everyone else around me is going through all these emotions too. When masks and social distancing seem to be stripping away our humanity, showing compassion for others becomes more important. 

Call a friend to see how they are doing. Send a card. Lift each other up during this hard time. We are socially distanced, but that doesn’t mean we have to grieve alone. We are in this together.

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One reply on “Viral Grief”

Your blog resonates with so many individuals and how they are dealing with it. Thank you for going through the steps of grief and how each step impacts us.

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