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Everything is Changing

Handling Grief in a Chaotic World

· Hope,Discouragement,New

The Amazon delivery worker knocked on my door and jogged back to their van with its blue arrow swooshing across the side. I hurried downstairs and swung the door open. Outdoor air shocked my face like an old friend I hadn’t seen in a while. I inhaled the winter-turning-to-spring air and picked up the box laying on the concrete porch. I sprayed down the package with my handy-dandy Lysol spray (shout-out to mom for buying me two cans before I went to college freshman year; they’ve come in handy 5 years later). I ripped open the box to reveal the anxiously awaited package: two pairs of blue light glasses.

If someone told me this story a few weeks ago I would’ve looked at them quizzically wondering if everything was alright. Yet this seems to be quickly becoming a new normal for everyday life. Deliveries. Lysol spray. Excitement over blue light glasses. Zoom calls. FaceTime. Social Distancing. If we each received a nickel for every time we’d heard these words we’d get a $1,200 check in the mail…oh wait.

Things are different now and with difference comes a wide array of emotions. We were abruptly removed from friends, familiar places, and the normal way we were living life. Many of us were taken away from campus and placed back in our childhood homes. We are navigating working from home rather than sitting in a classroom or study session. We are sharing video calls rather than face-to-face interactions. Our diets changed. For instance, I’ve eaten chili for every dinner for six days because it’s the easiest thing to mass-produce and not have to go to the grocery store. Seniors anticipating graduation festivities at the end of this year were robbed of those expected celebrations. Freshmen awaiting their first Spring Retreat are left wondering “What was it going to be like?” And everyone in-between is stuck with an unsettling feeling that nothing is as we thought it was going to be. This only scratches the surface of the differences we are seeing day-to-day.

I went to our Brazil partnership for Ohio State’s Spring Break. We boarded the planes before the COVID-19 crisis was being taken very seriously in the USA, but throughout the week news of more and more serious measures began to unfold back home. I had eerie, disjointed feelings the more I heard about the USA. The unchanged hugging, high-fiving, and kissing-on-cheek culture of Brazil seemed incompatible with what my family and friends said about how they couldn’t be within six feet of one another or gathered in large groups back in Ohio. Ohio State emailed us to say they were closing down; yet groups of freshman at the Universidade Federal de Santa Catarina were going car-to-car to ask donations for their school parties happening next week. Ohio restaurants and shops were murmuring about shutting their doors in order to prevent people gathering and spreading the virus; yet there I sat at an open-air market, eating my falafel wrap amidst hundreds of Brazilian college students who were perusing the local clothing, jewelry, and food vendors. When I arrived back in Columbus to find grocery store shelves as empty as the highways and business buildings – I was startled. I wrestled with the anxiety that came with the shocking differences between the Columbus I left ten days prior, and the one I had stepped back into. I was staring at a sign that said “Limit 3 items per customer” when the panic attack set in. The question “Is this how my world is going to be now?” raced through my mind over and over. I thought “Things are different now.”

And with difference comes a wide array of emotions.

Recently a friend pointed me to an article in the Harvard Business Review titled That Discomfort You’re Feeling Is Grief. In the article, world-renowned grief psychologist David Kessler explains these varying emotions we are all currently learning to cope with – many of us for the very first time. Kessler explains that we are experiencing different stages of grief as this pandemic unfolds. Read his explanation here:

“Understanding the stages of grief is a start. But whenever I talk about the stages of grief, I have to remind people that the stages aren’t linear and may not happen in this order. It’s not a map but it provides some scaffolding for this unknown world. There’s denial, which we say a lot of early on: This virus won’t affect us. 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. 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. I can learn how to work virtually.”

It’s important we take time during the social isolation to be aware of the emotions we are feeling. Which stage of grief are you currently experiencing? Denial, anger, bargaining, sadness, or acceptance? Are you experiencing different stages over different changes?

Maybe for Seniors you’re feeling denial about missing out on the later festivities of the year and you’re feeling sadness about the postponement of graduation. For Sophomores you might be feeling angry that you don’t get to finish out your last year in the dorm and bargaining with your parents about going on a trip to see your friends in another state soon “if you just isolate at home for a couple weeks.” For Freshmen you might be sad about Freshmen Leadership Team being over and accepting of year one of college ending with the hope that next year will be even better. For Juniors maybe you’re sad that in-person bible studies are over for the year and you’re in denial about your friends who are seniors are graduating next month. Obviously these are just examples, but take a moment to really identify what is going on within you this week. What are you grieving and how are you grieving it currently?

David Kessler goes onto explain three strategies to help cope with the strong emotions and grief we are all navigating currently. Kessler says we can 1) Come into the present, 2) Let go of what you can’t control, and 3) Stock up on compassion. These three ideas are proven tactics to move through the stages of grief in a healthy, helpful, and lasting way. Here are a couple ways we as a movement can embrace these tactics and move toward accepting the newness of the world we live in and recognizing meaning in the differences we see developing around us.

  1. Come into the present
    1. Ground yourself in the space you are in. Notice the items on your desk. Notice the posters hanging on the wall. Take time to write down, draw, or simply think about the things you see.
    2. Spend time in prayer with God each day. Be aware of his presence that is with you always.
    3. Practice gratitude for the blessings God has surrounded you with in this moment. Food, shelter, technology, blue light glasses. Even if it is the most basic item, take time to thank God for it.
  2. Let go of what we can’t control
    1. Read through Psalm 46, Psalm 23, and 1 Peter 5:6-7. Hand over your anxieties and fears to the Lord. He wants to hear them and to take them from you. He wants to be in control of the things going on in your heart and in your life.
    2. Read Matthew 7:9-11. When thinking about the future months, look through a lens of hope rather than despair. We can hope that the Lord will provide and that he will give us what we need. We do not need to be stirred to overwhelming anxiety, but pray that the Lord would help you trust him to show up in the grieving and changes.
    3. Read Psalm 133 and 1 Corinthians 12: 25-26. Remember that those around us are grieving too. We cannot control their actions, nor how they are processing this crisis – everyone is in a different stage of grief, even if they are not aware of it. Be abundantly gracious with one another. Address conflict in your home if it is safe, and communicate your own emotional place with others without the expectation that they will understand or change their own action or processing.
  3. Stock up on compassion
    1. Read Psalm 116. Thank God for his great compassion. Praise Him. Let his compassion fill you. He loves you dearly and deeply. Accept his compassion.
    2. Read Ephesians 4:1-6 and Hebrews 10:23-25. Take time this week to encourage someone: a family member, a friend, a classmate. Encourage them in order to help them combat their anxiety and grief. Help them see their life through the lens that God sees them – as beloved sons and daughters.

Kessler continued, “Keep trying. There is something powerful about naming this as grief. It helps us feel what’s inside of us. So many have told me in the past week, “I’m telling my coworkers I’m having a hard time,” or “I cried last night.” When you name it, you feel it and it moves through you. Emotions need motion. It’s important we acknowledge what we go through.”

Let’s come together as a community of believers in the startling grief of a changed world and be a burning bush that attracts the eyes, hearts, and minds of a grieving world around us. Let’s be aware of our grief and bring it before God and before others. Let’s love deeply and genuinely.

You are loved,

Sam Hodge

Reference the article with David Kessler here: