Grief and loss in difficult times

By Eva Akiyama, LPC, RCC Counseling 

It’s no secret that it’s been a difficult year and a half. Many people have experienced tragedy and trauma in 2020 and 2021 – there have been deaths due to COVID-19, losses due to wildfire, job layoffs, disconnection with family and friends. Almost everyone has experienced increased worry, stress, and depression in some form or another. We are all being forced to get acquainted with what it means to grieve.  

We’re used to thinking about grief and loss as it relates to death and dying. If someone loses a family member or friend, they experience grief in the loss of that person that they loved. But grief and loss exist in other places, too. When the vacation you planned to take last summer, maybe your first one in years, was canceled due to COVID, what you experienced was grief. When you got stuck taking all online classes for your first year in college, after looking forward to walking around campus with friends, what you experienced was grief. Grief comes in all shapes and sizes, for all kinds of reasons. Even small losses can create a deep sense of grief.  

It’s an easy trap to compare losses. If my loss doesn’t seem as “big” as yours, I might feel defensive or apologetic, like I don’t deserve to grieve as much as you do. Or I might feel guilty about grieving if I don’t think my loss measures up. But really, there isn’t a winner in the grief game. Whatever has happened to you is important, and the feelings you are having deserve attention and care.  

David Kessler is one of the world’s foremost experts on grief – he worked with Elisabeth Kubler-Ross on the five stages of loss and has worked for decades with the LAPD, the Red Cross, and other organizations. In 2020, he gave an interview titled “That Discomfort You’re Feeling Is Grief.” In that interview, he talks about “anticipatory grief, that feeling we get about what the future holds when we’re uncertain…We’re feeling a loss of safety. We are grieving on a micro and a macro level.” He talks about naming your grief so you can work through it. “Emotions need motion. It’s important we acknowledge what we go through…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. Your work is to feel your sadness and fear and anger.” 

The pandemic is starting to get under control in this country, and slowly things are opening back up and returning to some part of normal. But as that happens, don’t forget to pay attention to the grief and loss you’ve experienced. It will help you become a more thoughtful, more resilient person if you can name those feelings and work through them, and it will help you to better connect with others. If you are a current student taking credit courses here at RCC, there are mental health counselors you can talk to. Email or call 541-956-7443 to set up an appointment.