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‘Anticipatory grief’: Dealing with unknowns in wake of the coronavirus pandemic

By Jessica Patton

This content contains explicit and sensitive information that may not be suitable for all ages.

This is a follow-up story to a previous piece written by Jessica while she was in self-isolation. She has since finished her quarantine.

My struggle has always been trying to accurately write down, or speak, the thoughts in my mind.

I read an article during my self-isolation about the importance of putting a name to how we’re feeling. If you can name it, maybe you can begin to take the steps to understand and accept it.

The article’s headline reads: That discomfort you’re feeling is grief.

It made for a lot of word vomit.

And for me — grief is the perfect umbrella term for everything going on in my mind.

I tried to explain to people what I was feeling but couldn’t identify it. It made for a lot of word vomit. Sure, there are feelings of guilt, of fear, of sadness but I struggled to nail it down. And from what I’ve heard from friends, family, coworkers and anyone else I spoke to over the past few weeks, they were feeling the same thing.

David Kessler, who was interviewed in the article, had this to say:

“We feel the world has changed, and it has. We know this is temporary, but it doesn’t feel that way, and we realize things will be different. Just as going to the airport is forever different from how it was before 9/11, things will change and this is the point at which they changed.

“The loss of normalcy; the fear of economic toll; the loss of connection. This is hitting us and we’re grieving. Collectively. We are not used to this kind of collective grief in the air.”

The most interesting aspect of the article was the introduction (to me, anyway) of the term ‘anticipatory grief.’

I mentioned in my other article my belief that if I don’t know what’s going to happen, then I assume something bad will happen. It turns out – I can chalk that up to anticipatory grief.

According to the article, “anticipatory grief is that feeling we get about what the future holds when we’re uncertain.” Is that not what everyone is feeling as each day comes and goes without any more answers about when it will all be over?

But is the end of the pandemic any closer?

For me, the worst part about this confusing time is that feeling of uncertainty. Even with our self-isolation being done, it doesn’t really change much for me and my partner. Sure, now we can go to the grocery store and go out for whatever essentials we may need, but is the end of the pandemic any closer?

No one has any idea.

I would like to see my baby niece – she’s two months old and it’s hard to believe I’ve only seen her four times. I would like to see my parents and my in-laws. Hell, I wish I was driving to my office rather than working two steps from my bedroom. I actually miss rush hour traffic – can you believe that?

For me this “anticipatory grief” has me grieving for the time lost, the time we will lose and how the world will be when this has all passed.

But it will pass. And that’s what I’m holding on to the most.

I’m also trying to hold on to all the good that I can. I know at work, we’re trying hard to keep the public informed while also trying to balance it with feel-good stories that are coming out of this pandemic — neighbours shopping for elderly neighbours in isolation, people clanging of pots and pans every night to thank frontline workers

I feel as though people are sharing now more than ever. I’ve picked up new hobbies, I’ve started to share some fitness tips I’ve discovered with gyms closed. While we all may be practicing social and physical distancing, it’s nice to see people doing their best to remain connected.

Denial, anger, sadness and acceptance. They’re all the stages of grief. We are all experiencing them. But we’re experiencing them differently and in different order.

These things make me feel hope.

We’re all in this together. We’ve all said that before, but it feels true this time.

Those eerily empty streets at night? Or the “Closed” signs in all the storefronts along some of the busiest streets? The locks on dog park gates and caution tapes around playgrounds?

Don’t look at them as daunting. Don’t feel sad, either. Those empty streets and locked parks and closed businesses are signs that people are listening. Signs that people are understanding. They’re signs that we’re taking this seriously.

So for me, these things don’t make me sad or angry or confused. These things make me feel hope. And that for me, is enough for now.

Everyone be kind. Always.

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