A crisis like this can trigger a trap door to despair
My heart goes out to the thousands of families navigating the sharp and fresh edges of loss during this tragic pandemic sweeping our world. And while many are faced with new grief, I have learned that tragic times can also trigger the dreaded trap door of despair for those of us who have worked so very hard to climb our way out of the darkness.
For me, the detailed and relentless stories of respiratory distress, ICUs and ventilators have reignited the vivid nightmares and recounting of those last hours with my beloved son. Many self-help books suggest a key method to journey through grief is to focus on the day at hand – refusing to let your mind wander to the days of the past with your loved one or the days ahead that you must face without your loved one. Yet when the day at hand is so heavy, filled with fear and uncertainties, I find myself instead falling back to difficult memories of the past and terrifying realizations of the future without my son.
And the social distancing has certainly triggered other losses. While these things pale in comparison to the loss of human life, for those of us navigating lingering grief, these additional losses may be enough to trigger a setback. As the mom of a senior in high school, I had put much focus on the happiness of these coming months with prom, graduation and college planning. Given the timing of losing my son Jay – these are even more important to me as they were some of the last experiences of pure happiness he experienced before being diagnosed with cancer. Yet now – all these milestones, these pockets of happiness – are in question if not already canceled.
While these lost milestones – truly seen as the rights of passage for our youth – are disappointing for me, my heart aches for my daughter. Like me, I have no doubt she was leaning even more fully into these big bucket events to fill the void that losing her brother has left in her heart and soul.
Yet true to my nature, I strive to find solutions versus drowning in the negative. My hope is that some of my actions may help others facing difficult times:
- Get away for the onslaught of negative news of the day. Carve out a portion of the day that is COVID-19 free – turn off the news, stop reading the feeds. Work hard to clear your head of all things pandemic related.
- Participate in daily exercise of some kind. Not only will this help you remain healthy, it’s a well-known fact that the endorphins produced during exercise help to boost happiness and relieve stress. Ride your bike, go for a walk, jump rope or turn on some music and dance!
- Designate a time each day to reflect on a happy memory with your lost loved one. Consider listening to his/her favorite song, looking through pictures or even journaling.
- Phone a friend – literally. For some, it is difficult to admit that you are struggling. Especially when your loss is not “recent.” But never apologize for your broken heart. Find that one person you can call, maybe you talk about your pain, maybe you just need to cry. It is OK. While there is a time to grieve in solitude, everyone needs someone. Find your person.
- Be kind. It sounds so simple. But especially with younger folks – I am surprised by how quickly people can forget the pain of others and who can abandon their friends who are working so hard just to get through another day. Text,–emails, cards, calls, smiles, waves, inclusion, nice thoughts — those small, easy things can make all the difference in the world for someone battling to find light through the darkness of grief. And there is nothing more uniting than the common pain of grief – perhaps no one can truly understand until they have lived through the sorrow – so use the unwanted lessons you have learned to help those still trying to find their way.
There is a strange part of me that doesn’t want the pain to subside completely. Somehow that signals that my son is further away. I know that I will forever hear his voice, see his smile and dimples, feel his love – but a somehow the biting raw pain keeps him closer. I am certain that my emotions are intensifying as we are closing in on the month we lost him. And at the same time, I am struggling with the realization that the June 22 4th Annual Jay’s Hope Golf Tournament we established in his honor and to help other college students battling cancer may not come to fruition this year due to social distancing.
Grief is a personal journey – with no two people traveling the same path. My hope is that in sharing my own experience, I may help others who find the tragic circumstances of COVID-19 retriggering emotions they thought they had overcome.
Kelly Jo Golson is the chief marketing officer for Advocate Aurora Health.
About the Author
Kelly Jo Golson, contributor to health enews, is chief marketing officer for Advocate Aurora Health.