This month is my wife’s birthday. Now, I didn’t grow up really celebrating birthdays too hard, but in my wife’s family they love to celebrate each other’s birthdays. Perhaps that comes from having 4 kids and the rarity it was to be the sole focus of attention at any one time.
Regardless, this year we will not be able to have our standard celebration with family coming over, eating her favorite foods, and making everything about her. We also won’t be able to go on our traditional birthday date night (I was thinking El Serrano’s). This just feels unfair to me. In fact I’ve noticed that I’m experiencing grief in relation to many lost experiences for myself and for my family during this pandemic.
When we think about grief we tend to automatically turn our mind toward death and dying. I prefer a broader definition of grief to include any situation in which we thought life was going to be one way, but it ended up being something different than we were looking forward to.
As I’ve been talking to patients over these last few weeks, I’ve heard stories of weddings being cancelled, vacations postponed, graduations that will be missed, and so many other experiences that are not going to be what we planned. Some of us may feel the need to suppress our grief and move forward without acknowledging our feelings, however that rarely goes well for us.
Elizabeth Kubler-Ross developed her original 5 stages of grief in 1969. Over the years she adapted her initial research to develop what is called the Kubler-Ross Change Curve. I think this model is particularly relevant for the situation we currently find ourselves in.
One thing to note about this curve is that it is not a “one way” street. You could find yourself at different points on the curve at different times. Another one of my losses during the pandemic is that my son’s soccer season is cancelled. Right now I feel like I’m at the end of the curve with Integration, however I know myself well enough to know that I will probably move to the Frustration section on a beautiful Saturday morning in May and I’m reminded of his loss. It may take me 3 minutes, 3 hours, or 3 days to work back through the curve, but in the end I know I will return to Integration.
We are all experiencing varying levels of grief these days. I encourage you to utilize this curve to evaluate where you are with your own losses. Parents, I encourage you to use this a model to help you understand what your children are going through. Colleagues, I encourage you to keep this in mind as we work together to serve the health needs of our community.
May we give ourselves, our families, our co-workers and our patients grace through this difficult time knowing that we are all grieving and supporting each other as best we can.