A few weeks ago, my former high school classmates formed a weekly Zoom meeting dubbed “Zoomastahan.” It is meant to be a fellowship with people from the Philippines, China, Singapore, UAE, UK, USA and Canada. Since it is about high school, one cannot avoid talking about the teenage love stories of the 80’s – back in the day when we used to write notes to our friends and love interests explaining our deepest thoughts. These words exchanged in the sordid letters we’d never dare say out loud. How I loved the idea that we use to put a lot of thought into them and hand-wrote everything.
I love how the Zoomastahan has reignited our sense of connection, something which we have lost and continue to lose, in varying degrees, during the pandemic. Many of my former classmates are now front-line workers in the Philippines, US and UK. I know how physically, emotionally and mentally draining their work can be, Covid or no Covid, but to hear it directly from them with so much grief is just so emotionally compelling. To me the feeling is beyond discomfort and fear. All of them said it’s really within the spectrum of grief. So, I asked what do you say to someone who is feeling overwhelmed with grief? Their response was: “Let them say it the way they feel it. Just like how we are saying it right now.”
An article from Harvard Business Review (March 2020) said that there is something powerful about naming this emotion as grief. Understanding the stages of grief is a start. But bear in mind that the stages are not linear and may not happen in this order. It certainly is not a map but it provides some foundation for this unknown world. First, there’s denial: 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 or despair: 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 can tell, can be really powerful. We find control in acceptance. I can wash my hands. I can practice a safe distance. I can learn how to work virtually and still be productive.
The HBR article further posits that acknowledging the emotions helps us feel what’s inside of us. When you name it, you feel it and it moves through you. Emotions need motion. It’s important we acknowledge what we go through. One unfortunate by-product of the self-help movement is the ability to have feelings about our feelings. We tell ourselves things like, I feel sad, but I shouldn’t feel that; other people have it worse. We can — we should — stop at the first feeling. I feel sad. Let me go for five minutes to feel sad. If you wish to help yourself, you need to feel your sadness and fear and anger whether or not someone else is feeling something. Fighting it doesn’t help because your body is producing the feeling. If we allow the feelings to happen, they’ll happen in an orderly way, and it empowers us. Then we avoid becoming victims.
Many of us, including myself, were brought up to the idea that we should not let negative emotions like sadness or grief, to sink in. As a consequence, sometimes we try not to feel what we’re feeling because we have this image of a “gang of feelings,” as the HBR article puts it. If I feel sad and let that in, it’ll never go away. The gang of bad feelings will overrun me. The truth is a feeling that moves through. We feel it and it goes and then we go to the next feeling. There’s no gang out to get us. It would be less helpful to think that we shouldn’t feel grief right now. Let yourself feel the grief, in whatever form or shape it is, and keep going.