Six Months In: Making Sense of Our Collective Grief

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I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I miss EDSA rush hour.

Since the quarantine was implemented last March up until this time, I have only been out for two grocery trips and one errand run. There’s a pang of sadness I feel whenever I recall that adrenaline rush of making sure I get inside the train before 9:30 a.m., and the anticipation that builds up as I look forward to that sip of glorious fast food iced coffee a few blocks from the office. It’s pretty surreal that what my mundane looked like six months ago is far from coming back.

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It’s even harder to look at the stark reality plaguing us. As of writing, there are 314,079 Coronavirus cases in the Philippines. What’s more is a recorded all-time high of 4.6 million Filipinos out of work in July. Our education system is also catching its breath, with teachers, parents, and students struggling to navigate online learning with the limited resources they have, and not everyone is on equal footing. To think that this is just a portion of the long laundry list of issues our country, with the rest of the world, is unfairly facing today.

Quarantine measures have kept us cooped up at home, bringing outside stimuli with us, and it has gotten us overwhelmed — what with work meetings straight out of bed, a disorientation of where “time in” starts and “time out” ends, our humble abode bearing the brunt of collectively being a makeshift gym, cafe, church, and everything in between. “We may see more people feel a deep kind of tiredness or burnout and often, this is associated with the stress or demands we have from ourselves during this time not being matched with the coping or support we get, whether that’s from ourselves or others,” says licensed psychologist Jun Angelo Sunglao.

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The pandemic has also greatly distorted our sense of time. Recently, I had a check-in with a friend, and she told me how she momentarily forgot the months that made up the third quarter of the year, that it’s all become such a big blur. Rightly so. Days have turned into nights into weeks into months, weekdays and weekends are no longer, and we now do the same thing in the same place with the same people day after day after day. Momentous occasions like birthdays and graduations have become a gathering of faces on Zoom calls. Likewise, weddings and funerals have been reduced to livestreamed sessions that somehow rob us of the ability to express authentic joys, sorrows, well wishes, and condolences.

These days, the lines are hardly ever drawn. Where do we even begin?

This feeling we’re all feeling has a word for it, and its name is grief. “The loss of normalcy, the fear of economic toll, the loss of connection. This is hitting us and we’re grieving. Collectively. We are grieving on a micro and macro level,“ grief expert David Kessler explains.

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More than six months in, we’re all collectively trying our best to navigate relentless waves of paranoia and pain. We are grieving the abrupt loss of the facets that make up life, because quite frankly, no one gave us the heads up that we’d have this much to grieve about. It could start with nostalgia for the recent past, remembering, nay, longing for the things that brought us the simplest of joys — things like going out on a whim to catch up with friends over coffee, or even the most ridiculous and random things like missing long commute lines or the cacophony of voices you hear from strangers on the street as you pass them by. Case in point, an article in the New York Times collated photos and videos from people that depicted moments of normalcy they reflected on recently, and one reader submitted a photo of peoples’ bare hands on a train pole.

In her 1969 book On Death and Dying, Elizabeth Kübler-Ross identified five stages of grief presented on a linear line: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. But the thing about grief is that it can’t be drawn on a straight line. It’s not just reserved for the loss of human life either, and can extend to what matters to us or, at the very least, what keeps us together. Grief is an entanglement of wavy lines, going back and forth, skipping a stage or two, and, when you thought you’ve reached the end of it, maybe going back to square one.

But all that is part of healing, and so we carve out how to get our sense of normalcy back in new or revisited ways. After all, we are creatures of habit. Studies show that everyday routines make life more meaningful and are associated with good mental health. Licensed psychologist Jade Cuambot notes, “Established routines provide people a sense of organization and control which may help combating the unorganized and unforeseen effects of the pandemic.”

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Rebuilding routines doesn’t have to be calendarized down to the tiniest details. What we crave for is rhythm and falling into it is not a walk in the park. It takes time, at least about an average of sixty-six days, for a behavior to become automatic. It also varies from person to person and depends on the intensity of the routines one is trying to develop. To feel a semblance of normalcy in the midst of abnormality, one must be open to learn and relearn, and as with anything, it starts with baby steps.

Sunglao advises, “Explore and rediscover things that you can do, keeps (sic) you safe, and is (sic) accessible to you sustainably and resource-wise. Find passions or interests you may have parked before or may have just found now. Find ways to express how you feel and mind your relationships. Normalcy does not need to be costly. If you find yourself looking for new things to do or juggling multiple part time (sic) work to make ends meet, create time for rest and time for yourself whenever you can.” Getting even the tiniest sliver of normalcy doesn’t have to be a tall order. It doesn’t have to feel forced or rushed either, and is more about doing what you can with what little or however much you have now. You might not have this whole new routine thing figured out yet, and there might be a couple of off days. And I want you to know that that’s perfectly fine.

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It might take a while for us to get back up there to that sense of wholeness we once felt. And we have to accept the grim facts for what they are. The world wouldn’t be returning to the way it was in the recent past, or not anytime soon at least. “There’s no right way to grieve. Allow yourself to feel what you’re feeling. Talk about it with others. Your feelings are valid. They are also a source of information. If you pay attention to your feelings, you can deal with them and start working on accepting the situation. Once you’ve been able to accept your present situation, you can find ways to better deal with it,” says licensed psychologist Celine Sugay.

We can challenge ourselves to look at this with fresh eyes. After all, “healing,” which is derived from the word “whole,” is not a return to sameness but a step forward toward something far better, as we pick up the pieces of our shattered selves in these unprecedented times.

This, too, shall pass.

This article was written by our contributor, Arrah Balucating.

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