Maria Olsen, Positive Aging Kuel Category Expert
Grief is a normal response to loss.
While it is most commonly experienced and recognized around death, it also can be experienced for a host of other reasons.
My grief around my divorce and the loss of my family as I had dreamed it would be hit a crescendo about five years after my divorce. Maybe I was in denial before then, at least about the finality of it. But acknowledging my feelings was necessary to my healing.
“But denying it often allows it to spring up unexpectedly when triggered.”
Grieving Is Not That Bad:
I have grieved other things in life, like becoming an empty-nester, breakups, the end of friendships, the closing of chapters in my life. But grief is not all bad. Grief means you have loved and cared deeply. With time, it can hurt less. But denying it often allows it to spring up unexpectedly when triggered.
Swiss psychiatrist, Elizabeth Kubler Ross, set forth the five most common emotional stages of grief in her seminal book, On Death and Dying. The stages she identified are denial (shock, fear, confusion), anger (frustration, anxiety), bargaining (struggle to find meaning, reaching out to others, telling one’s story), depression (helplessness, hostility, flight) and acceptance (exploring options, moving on).
Not everyone experiences all of these stages, nor are the stages linear. But understanding these common feelings and ways of coping is helpful.
Five Grief Stages To The Coronavirus Experience:
Dr. Ross’s husband, David Kessler, who also is a grief expert, founded Grief.com. During the pandemic, he applied the five grief stages to the Coronavirus experience:
There’s denial, which we saw a lot of early on: This virus won’t affect us. And there’s anger: You’re making me stay home and taking away my activities. There’s bargaining: Okay, if I social distance for two weeks everything will be better, right? There’s sadness: I don’t know when this will end. And finally, there’s acceptance.
“Acceptance, as you might imagine, is where the power lies. We find control in acceptance.”
This is happening; I have to figure out how to proceed. Acceptance, as you might imagine, is where the power lies. We find control in acceptance. I can wash my hands. I can keep a safe distance. And I can learn how to work virtually.[i]
Empathize Regarding Others’ Reactions:
Understanding what we are going through during this difficult time helps me empathize regarding others’ reactions, and practice compassion towards others and towards myself.
Since more than half of women in the United States are widowed by the time they reach age 75,[ii] I checked in with some widowed friends of mine to see how they were coping.
Angie Beach, of McLean, Virginia, finds visiting her husband’s gravesite to give her a sense of connection and peace. She marks important occasions and holidays with these visits. Angie also gleans comfort by staying close to family and friends and remaining in the neighborhood where she spent most of her life. Taking up new hobbies also was helpful in helping her move forward.
Diane Papalia Zappa, of New York, New York, says, “When my husband passed away suddenly and unexpectedly three years ago, I began to write to preserve my memories about our relationship through the years.” Her writings eventually became her book, The Married Widow: My Journey With Bob Zappa (Bold Story Press 2021). “I only later realized that writing about these memories was the first, and possibly most critical, step in my journey towards healing.”
Zappa also found comfort in readings she had with psychic mediums. “They brought me messages from my late husband and the promise that, even though he is now in spirit, he is always watching over me,” Zappa maintains. Finally, reaching out to other women who share the common experience of widowhood also helped her cope with her loss.
“Not everyone finds uniform coping mechanisms that help them.”
Allow Yourself To Feel Your Feelings:
Not everyone finds uniform coping mechanisms that help them. But more often than not, it is important to express one’s feelings, as opposed to keeping them bottled up inside. Some find that talking to others, whether they are trusted friends, professional therapists or in support groups is very healing. Allow yourself to feel your feelings, allow others to bear witness to your pain, and know that this, too, shall pass.
About the Author:
Maria Leonard Olsen is an attorney, author, radio show and podcast host in the Washington, D.C., area. For more information about her work, see www.MariaLeonardOlsen.com and follow her on social media at @fiftyafter50. Her latest book, 50 After 50: Reframing the Next Chapter of Your Life, which has served as a vehicle for helping thousands of women reinvigorate their lives, is offered for sale on this website.