What’s the rush?
I’ve noticed the conversation online about the pandemic is shifting. After our weeks of shock and vulnerability and honesty, there’s a sheen returning to how people write. So many people have moved on from admitting their sadness and uncertainty and are becoming polished and positive again.
Consulting firms are posting excitedly about what the new workplace furniture and elevators will look like; investors are arguing over which tech firms will make the most profit; business leaders are detailing how we can jump-start the economy and get back to business as usual.
No one is talking about the human heart.
As someone who has worked with change and transition for so long—and simply as a human being—I find that scary. Being a fully realized human means acknowledging and honouring your ups and downs; anything less is a disavowal of your own humanity. While I understand the impulse to shut down bad feelings and move on, it’s vital that we stay in the moment.
Grieving the shutdown
At the moment, it seems that it’s not considered okay to grieve. It’s not okay to have feelings of discomfort or anxiety, or despondency. And that’s not a healthy way to move through this transition. We’re heading toward the end of this period of the pandemic, and just as we lost things going into this shutdown, we’re losing things coming out of it, too. So many people have created new habits, gotten back to simple pleasures, spent more time with in-house family and pets. Even if we are eager to get back to “normal,” we’re still losing what we’ve created during this time. We have to adapt again. And, we have to reckon with the fact that, in fact, we won’t be going back to what we think of as “normal”; we’ll be creating a new, complicated, individualized set of guidelines and rules; this is, after all, a slow and uncertain transition, not a switch we’re flipping.
And during times of transition and adaption, it’s appropriate and important to grieve what you’re leaving behind before you start to explore the new phase. It’s important to consider what you want to keep and what you want to change in your life.
Transitioning well means acknowledging this period of loss, and yet I see very little of that in what people are writing. I’m reminded of how uncomfortable our culture is with grief and sadness. Don’t mourn the end of a relationship; don’t grieve your empty nest; look at the bright side, find the silver lining! Move on, take a class, renovate your house, get a new relationship.
Just make sure you don’t mourn or show sadness.
You can’t numb selectively
It was recently Mother’s Day. For me, the day is complicated. It’s joyful because I have a wonderful son and he and his wife are expecting; it’s sad because my own mother—my best friend—is gone, and her celebration of life was on Mother’s Day a year ago.
These things are both true, and if I were to try to squelch the sadness I felt on Mother’s Day, I would be doing a disservice not just to my own pain, but also to my joy and the anticipation around becoming a grandmother.
That’s what happens to humans when we put on a happy face and can’t express our feelings: our feelings go underground, and are pushed to be dealt with later—if ever—and then we wonder why we don’t enjoy life. If you push down the bad, you’re also going to push down the good. By trying to flatten our negative emotions, we take away room for our positive ones as well. You can’t numb yourself selectively.
I don’t mean we should wallow and mope; just that it’s essential we look at all these wild experiences square on, and admit how hard so many of them are.
Positivity isn’t always a positive!
If our language is always positive and we always act like we’ve got it together, we’re not inviting genuine conversations and communication. If we won’t admit to our own cracks, no one will feel comfortable mentioning theirs to us. So we need to consider what kind of relationships we’re trying to build—professionally as well as personally.
My own goal at this phase in my life and career is to engage only in authentic relationships, and so I am working to show my vulnerability—again, not to wallow, but to instead just acknowledge my fears and worries and pain so that others have an invitation to do the same. That way, instead of suffering in silence, we can help each other work through our ups and downs—and, in fact, it’s sometimes even a quicker or at least less painful process when we don’t add loneliness to all our other emotions. A burden shared is, after all, a burden halved.
Making space for the big questions
By refusing to rush through this process, by pausing to honestly acknowledge our pain and loss before we launch back into “normal” life, we do the vital work of making space to ask the big questions:
What can we learn from this pandemic?
What must we change about our direction as a society, as a species, as inhabitants of this beautiful planet?
How can make sure that this enormous disruption, all of this pain, all of our grief, have not been wasted?
How do we become people who integrate and learn from our hardships to create the best world possible?
And, if you’re struggling to process your grief, let’s connect here.