The Gravity of Grief

I have written before about the ways that loss – whether expected or not – can make the world feel like a foreign place. Navigating life in the wake of a loss is like learning to walk all over again on an unfamiliar surface. Sometimes that challenge of learning to walk on the moon becomes extra complicated, like when one loss follows another and you can’t see the end of the line. Repeated losses, coming at us like a series of suckerpunches, can leave us feeling like we’re hanging by a thread.


Every new statistic, shelter in place order, and recommendation from the CDC feels like a body blow to the heart.


Everyone has their own level of tolerance for the uncertainty and rapid-fire changes in prognosis for our collective future. For some, facing a frighteningly unknown future feels expected, and even familiar. For others, the constantly changing landscape brings waves of anxiety, depression, and fear. Keeping your balance on these shifting sands is a tricky job, and it’s easy to get knocked off your feet. The double whammy comes when the next blow knocks you down again before you can stand back up.


Falling down


Few could have imagined how different our lives would be just a few short weeks ago. We had just started a new year, and the future looked, if not always bright, at least potentially exciting. Then one day, a news anchor mentioned a new respiratory illness originating in Asia. And in barely more than a blink, here we are.


It can knock the breath out of you, the world changing so fast. No one really knows how they will handle those changes until they happen. Some of us try to assuage our anxiety by keeping busy. All the projects we’ve been putting off until we had more time suddenly jump to the front of our minds. “What better way to fill my time than to be productive?” we might wonder. And it’s true, ticking things off a list that’s been lurking in the back of your mind can feel good. We may feel proud of our achievements after we finally get around to the organizing, the dusting, the cleaning, and the finishing.


But what happens if the productivity doesn’t happen? If our grand plans, Pinterest boards, and endless lists go unfulfilled? What if we set out to rise above the chaos of an unplanned disruption, and instead we fall down?


The weight of grief


“This grief has a gravity, it pulls me down.” One of the most poignant scenes in Disney’s Frozen II comes when Princess Anna finds herself alone, fearing that she has lost everyone she loves. As she sings about her terrible sadness, loneliness, and loss of direction, she curls into a ball beneath the weight of her grief. She needs to gather all of her strength to simply stand up from the floor. Grief has mass. Grief has weight. Grief has gravity.


And make no mistake: As we face the sudden changes and disruptions to our daily life, we also face our grief.


What do we grieve? We grieve the days we anticipate having, whether mundane or extra-special. We mourn the loss of face-to-face connection. We hurt for those who have suffered loss of life, and loss of loved ones, to this virus. We grieve for the loss of a “normal” that will never come again in exactly the same way.


The coronavirus will pass. Quarantine will lift. And, as Anna sings, “It’s clear that everything will never be the same again.” We know that we will not be separated from friends and family forever, and we will regain the freedom to travel safely, to congregate without putting others at risk, and to return to daily life. And in our hearts, we know that that daily life will involve a new normal.


Standing up


The weight of grief can make it impossible to act on the plans we make. We walk through these strange days carrying grief on our backs and in our hearts.


“I won’t look too far ahead.

It’s too much for me to take.

But this next step,

This next breath,

Is one that I can make.”


Standing under the weight of her grief was the hardest thing Anna had ever faced – and this is a princess who survived being frozen solid. Give yourself grace. There is all the time in the world to do things. It is ok to take the time now to simply be, and feel, and stand.


Sometimes, standing up is all we can do when the weight of grief lies heavy on our shoulders.


So, if your lists remain un-checked-off, give yourself grace. You are carrying grief, and it is too heavy right now. If your self-care routine has shrunk to laying on the couch in pajamas all day, invite self-compassion. Grief has gravity. Today, it is ok to simply stand.


We will get through this, and we will shed the weight in time. You are never alone in this, even if your connections must be at a distance for the time being.