“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo.
“So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”
– The Fellowship of the Ring
Can you relate to Frodo? I can.
The collective response to the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus and resulting COVID-19 pandemic has been startling both in its extent and speed.
As my colleagues and I have communicated with AAPG members around the globe, we’re hearing and observing how they are both struggling and coping with this new challenge. Many are hunkered down at home, working remotely, teaching their children, creating opportunities for engagement and creativity. These are valuable and useful responses, and they’re putting a brave face on this situation.
We know that practicing social distancing, frequent hand washing and regularly sanitizing work surfaces are some of the simplest and most effective ways we have to slow the spread of this disease to which, collectively, the human race has no immunity.
These are things we can do – positive actions we can take – that give us a sense of power and control. And that’s good, because one of the biggest challenges this global pandemic presents is in how to manage our thoughts, our feelings and our emotions in a world where we have very little control over our circumstances.
Grief and Acceptance
In the Harvard Business Review this morning I read a piece entitled, “That Discomfort You’re Feeling is Grief,” by Scott Berinato.
Berinato interviews David Kessler, an author who has focused his career on the study of death and grieving, and who co-wrote with psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross the book “On Grief and Grieving: Finding the Meaning of Grief through the Five Stages of Loss.”
Kessler observes that we grieve the fact that COVID-19 has changed the world. While the pandemic will wane, what we are each experiencing during this time will change us. And it will change our behaviors and actions going forward – we should expect “normal” after COVID-19 to look different than “normal” before COVID-19. We don’t know precisely how, but change is upon us.
The second grief we’re experiencing, according to Kessler, is anticipatory grief. The future is always uncertain, but now that reality is right in front of us – it’s unavoidable.
Will my family members and friends make it through this crisis? Will I make it through this crisis? What about my livelihood as oil prices collapse and global economic activity contracts?
As Kessler explains, anticipatory grief includes “more broadly imagined futures.” And if you let your mind start to run on its own it can take you into all kinds of “imagined futures,” most that you would prefer not to consider. To deal with this, he suggests we need to discipline our minds to consider both downside and upside scenarios, and do so deliberately. Focus on the range of possible outcomes, rather than anchoring on either end of the spectrum.
The Kübler-Ross Grief Cycle includes five stages:
But, Kessler explains, we do not necessarily follow a linear progression through these stages. Rather than checking to see where you are on the road to acceptance, use this list as a rubric to sort your emotions as you experience them: “Oh, there’s denial; now I’m bargaining; this will never end ... ”
But it will end, “and 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.”
Connection and Grace
As Haldir the Elf put it,
“The world is indeed full of peril, and in it there are many dark places; but still there is much that is fair, and though in all lands love is now mingled with grief, it grows perhaps the greater.”
What do we do with all of this?
Just like you, I’m working through it myself. But I’d suggest we focus on two things:
First, while social distancing is an essential strategy to slow the spread of the virus, let’s not let that slide into social isolation. Working from home, outside of our normal routines, there is a tendency to withdraw, not just physically, but emotionally.
Extroverts know they need connection, but introverts need it, too – just in smaller doses.
So, be intentional about connecting with others. This is one time where technology and our screens can help us achieve this goal.
I have had more video conferences in the past week than in the past year. Seeing each other’s faces – communicating with both verbal and non-verbal cues – creates virtual community. It allows us to work problems together.
Do the same on a purely social basis. How about a virtual coffee break or lunch with a friend or colleague? Just last night I celebrated my sister-in-law’s birthday with other family members remotely.
Second, each of us is experiencing our own response to this pandemic and we’re each at different stages of the grief cycle on any given day. Layer on top of this the challenges of being cooped up at home with your family, trying to be productive, as cabin fever sets in and you have a recipe for discord.
If a member of my family is experiencing anger, it does not help for me to respond in kind. Similarly, if I’m feeling particularly annoyed in a given moment and snap at a co-worker by email or video conference, I’m not helping any of us move toward acceptance. We all need an extra measure of grace as we collectively move through this difficult time.
Frodo much preferred his sheltered, quiet and comfortable life in The Shire. But that is not where his path took him.
I, too, prefer life in The Shire, in the comfort of my habits and familiar routines, enjoying my family, listening to music, and reading good books like “The Fellowship of the Ring.” But that’s not where life has taken me, nor where it’s taken you.
Thankfully, as Gildor the Elf reminds us, “courage is found in unlikely places.”