As I write this, I am sitting in a hotel chair, watching my baby nap on the bed next to me after meeting more family than he ever knew existed. We are traveling this weekend to celebrate the life of a beloved elder - one who died over six months ago.
In what is now a typical scene, we greet each other warmly, disclosing our vaccine status before sweeping into big hugs, and ask the most obvious question: how are you doing with all this after having to wait so long for us all to say good-bye?
Delayed grief is a phenomena that developed alongside our capacity as a species to understand loss; when the emotional or physical pain of a loss is not acutely felt right away, but rather sneaks up on us months or years later. Before Covid, delayed grief was an individual response to complex loss, one where the griever had multiple, urgent stressors that required their attention.
A wonderful resource called “Grief In Common” lists some scenarios that might trigger this response:
- losing a co-parent with small children
- losing a parent immediately followed by the care of the remaining parent
- losing someone while managing your own health concerns
- losing a person and their income which leads to resource instability
- loss during another big life event like a new job or divorce
- the perceived responsibility to be the "strong one" to take care of others.
With a national quarantine effectively banning any public outpouring of physical connection and emotional consilience, we are now collectively experiencing delayed grief.
How can we fully sit with our loss if we are unable to perform the ritual of letting go? How can we be expected to process pain when we were navigating unemployment, illness, schooling disruption, resource instability or "just" the collective trauma of living through the worst pandemic in modern history?
The answer is, we can't. And we shouldn’t feel bad about that. Grief is nothing if not patient, and an exquisitely painful state of being that is needed to heal and integrate our life without our loved one.
Janet Weisiger lost her husband of 61 years in May 2020. She was able to set the date for his funeral service on May 8, 2021. She writes:
"I had thought in one year I would have experienced the painful reality of loneliness and precious memories, but that would have ended. Instead, the memories of 6l years of marriage came back in full force as I planned Dick's memorial service.... Now the memorial service is over. Dick's 90 years and 4 months have been re-lived, memories are permanently engraved in our minds, the joy of knowing him and loving him has been strengthened, and the grief has lessened. Closure is finally taking place."
I wish for all of you the same peace that Mrs. Weisinger is moving towards today. Remember, grief is hard but you are not alone. There is love around you, even if we have to wait to see it in person.