Grief, Empathy and Resilience

My dad died in early April and a good friend passed away, from the other deadly ‘c’ disease, cancer, in mid-June. In the middle of that short time span, I was asked to be a panelist for a webinar, called The Effect of COVID-19 on Grief, Bereavement & Loss (view the video recording here). And in the midst of sharing my personal experiences – and learning a lot from my fellow panelists, all healthcare professionals – I had some observations and insights I wanted to share as we move together through these strange and eerie pandemic times. Not just about grieving and loss, but about life in general. The good and the bad. How we treat each other and how we treat ourselves. And how we move forward each day in the face of difficulty and moments of despair.

Editor’s Note: I keep promising my daughter Jamie I will write a more amusing blog one day soon about the trials and tribulations of trying to get her cat into a carrier to take back to her home, but I’m just not there yet, so bear with me please …

My learnings to date …

Lesson 1: Lock down and opening back up … it comes in phases. Like the COVID virus itself, I noticed that my feelings have been moving in lockstep with the phases we’ve outlined to respond to this pandemic. I talked in a previous blogpost, and in the grief webinar, about how I was almost too spent, or afraid, to open up my feelings of grief. The ‘COVID cloud’ covered all and had a profound effect on the small graveside service we held with just six of us. Not that many tears to shed or anguish to feel, just a kind of creepy overall feeling of loss.

Just a couple of months later, as New York State was starting to open up to more small gatherings, careful get-togethers and certain business re-openings, we got the tragic news about our friend Kathy. A lot of things were different about the circumstances under which she and dad died. Just the fact that Kathy was more than three decades younger and the unfairness of it all, the shock and sadness for the family and friends left behind, etc. All she would miss in life, too soon.

But the other difference I noticed was the freer, greater outpouring of emotion, both my own and everyone around us … at the wake and funeral we were now permitted to attend with other friends and family members. There were masks and there was socially distanced seating. But there were tears, hugs, bonding and shared grief.

I felt, in a way, that I was finally allowed, and allowing myself, to grieve for all people and things lost recently. Some of the emotional ‘lockdown’ had ended. As they pointed out in the webinar, the grief of this pandemic has extended beyond loss of loved ones, to mourning the loss of freedom, feelings of safety and security, moments of peace even.

When the realities of the first pandemic started to hit home, I blogged about going to a just about empty church and finding some solace in the quiet, peace and prayer. Now, for a second time, I found some answers in that same neighborhood church, this time at a funeral service for a friend that was moving and healing for everyone there, I think.

It doesn’t take away the enduring pain of the loss(es). But at least, for me, it showed I can still share feelings – even grief – with those around me. A community of friends who still exist, behind the masks.

Lesson 2: It’s all about empathy … always.

The thing that moved me most about the funeral was the priest’s homily, where he talked about empathy. Specifically, how ‘Jesus wept’ when he saw sadness in others. It so perfectly encapsulated how I felt because it was the sadness I felt for Kathy’s sons and husband and mom and family members that really brought on the tears for me. I know I can feel that kind of pain at funerals – or joy at weddings – even if I don’t intimately know the people.

He also so beautifully captured all that was special about Kathy – her overabundant kindness, generosity, always putting family (and friends) first. Also being about the strongest person any of us who had the joy to know her had ever met. Always a smile and concern for you, over herself. Always a really strong faith that got her through unimaginable hardships in her life and for those close to her. Even through so many bouts of cancer over so many years, she would keep things moving ahead for others and bear the pain so bravely and often privately.

The priest then provided comfort saying she would be rewarded in heaven for all her suffering, especially the really hard last few weeks of her life. And he gave a broader message of hope and direction for all of us lucky enough to be healthy and alive in these terrible times – to be, in a word, empathetic. To put your best self to work to help others and be there for them, to stay strong.

Lesson 3: You’re more resilient than you think (almost all of us are)

My final ‘life lesson’ to date in these COVID times is a sheer amazement of my own, and our collective, resilience. Again, those of us fortunate to have our physical and emotional health and well-being have continued to move forward and help others as we do our best to get by day to day. Here’s to all of us … and here’s to staying healthy, safe and well until this all becomes a memory.

6 thoughts on “Grief, Empathy and Resilience

  1. So sorry about your dad. May he Rest In Peace. Sorry about your friend this COVID time is so scary for so many.

    I don’t socialize with any due to I have an underlying issue. God bless you and your family. Hopefully if we ever get back to normal we will meet again.

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  2. Ellen, as always, this is so beautifully stated. Jim might remember my friend Carol from Newton Lake. She sadly lost her mother just a few weeks from her 100th birthday. Then a close friend suffered a massive stroke in days after the loss of her mother. I hope you don’t mind me sharing your blog with her because she too has been struggling with her loss. Time will help you heal on your own time frame. If you need or want to talk please call, I am normally here. Love to you and the family.

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  3. Oh Ellen, I’m sorry to hear about your friend Kathy. This blog was so beautifully written it made me cry (we know that’s not hard to do), but you’re so right about the “phases” of Covid, along with the emotional phases. Your writing is so descriptive and to the point of human emotion. Thank you for putting this out there. You’re totally right when you say that we can feel empathy for other’s because we’ve had the same situations throughout our own lives and can see them in others even if we don’t know those people that well. Love you, my friend.

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