Part 1: Loss, Grief, and COVID-19
Updated: Apr 2
As more and more parts of life come to a halt or adaptation in response to COVID-19, the realities of this hit everyone in different ways. For some, this means a massive increase of work, such as those on the front lines of healthcare. For others is means a change of work environment, such as those learning to work at home or do what they used to do in-person, but now online. For others it means getting laid off and then unexpectedly being without work, making the future especially uncertain.
Interestingly, there are many losses that are not often spoken about - those "small", "insignificant", or "minor" losses that all of us are actively experiencing. Specifically for expats - whose lives are often driven by short term contracts, work dependent on the ability to travel, and daily experiences taking place outside of what is 'normal' for back home - these losses are real, numberous, and can add up to be overwhelming.
Unfortunately, many of us experience guilt and self-condemnation for feeling these losses in the first place, as we can all point to someone who has it a lot worse. In this blog post and the one following, I would like to talk about these areas of loss and offer some exercises and thoughts regarding how to processes and engage this reality.
First, let's talk about some realities that may not strike you immediately as loss but, when considered further, very much have that quality.
1) Loss of independence and movement
For many people, the ability to move and go out is an important part of self-care, of feeling emotionally well, or of processing the day's events. The loss of this freedom can be stressful and take away daily rhythms that are healthy and grounding. Whether it is the freedom to sit in a cafe alone, go to the nearby gym to burn some steam, take an evening stroll, or walk to the supermarket for some last minute items - the loss of these seemingly small items is legitimate.
2) Loss through cancellations
Whether it is the conference you have been preparing a talk for or to attend, the family holiday that you were looking forward to, essential work travel, going home to see loved ones, a major event that is cancelled (a graduation, reunion, religious holiday, annual event, etc.), a country that you wanted to visit, a flight booked and cancelled, a border closed, a baby or wedding shower, or the party you were planning for a friend - those all count as losses!
3) Loss through separation
If you are an expat or traveller, you may be separated from those that you expected to be with in this time. This may be due to unfortunate timing of work travels where your partner got stuck in another country; it may be due to deciding not to take the embassy charter flight home, or one of you got quarantined due to contact at work. Even though you know cognitively that you will be reunited soon, this separation is a loss that is felt deeply.
4) Loss through unmet expectations
Maybe you have recently arrived in your new country and this is not what you had anticipated for your first months; or maybe you anticipated your job looking a certain way, but now it means endless hours at your computer at home. Maybe your business was just taking off and you had a lot of hope in what it would become. Maybe you have been going through a challenging time overseas and was depending on the visit of a best friend or parent, which is no longer happening. These unmet expectations are also loss!
Do you relate to loss in any of these areas?
I am sure all of us have gone through moments or days where we internally beat ourselves up for feeling disappointed, sadness, or frustration around what we expected not being the case. The first thing that I would like to say is that it is 100% okay AND normal to feel loss in response to what we deem as 'minor losses'. Just because some people have it a lot worse does not mean that whatever you are feeling is, therefore, unworthy of a place in your emotions.
So, now that we have established this, the big questions are these:
What to do in the meantime? How do you manage those feelings of loss?
This will be the topic of my next blog post. Stay tuned!