Moving through grief and loss when life is hard

By Robin Starch, Director of Education and Outreach

Things are not looking good. There is a surge in Covid cases, and winter is coming. So much has changed in the last 8 months. Our children are experiencing a yoyo of unspoken fear and anxiety, often manifesting in emotional and behavioral difficulties due to a change or a trauma. As a society, we are all experiencing the collective grief and loss of our way of life, our connections to loved ones, and our present and perhaps future hopes and expectations for ourselves and our children. And some of us are individually grieving the loss of a loved one, a job, a home, or other major loss due to Covid. Loss and grief impact us each in different ways, and navigating all of this change and loss requires energy. So much energy. And when the energy of the caregiver is depleted, children notice. 

It’s as though we all have a case of the hiccups. When we have the hiccups, things can feel normal one moment, and then our whole bodies involuntarily contract, and our thinking, speaking, eating, and breathing are disrupted. To get rid of the hiccups, we often hold our breath. Having a perpetual case of the hiccups is a good metaphor for our current situation. We are collectively holding our breath, and the hiccups are not going away. 

Hiccups go away when we let our diaphragm relax. And similarly, we need to relax, both collectively and individually. We MUST take care of ourselves so we can better care for our children and our loved ones. In the words of Angela Davis, self-care is a revolutionary act. 

Here are some ideas for engaging in self-care:

    • Give yourself permission to feel all of your emotions, especially the emotions of grief and loss. Give yourself permission to acknowledge you have needs. Our needs have to be met through ourselves, not through our children. When big feelings and fears rise up, find a neutral place where you can tend to your heart. It is also okay for children to see you process your emotions. You can model for them that we all experience sadness, fear, anxiety, hopelessness, and other hard emotions. You can model for them how to name, move through, and process deep emotions without getting stuck in them.
    • Reflect on your strength. Reflect on the moments and times throughout your life you have felt brave and strong. Use the memory of a time you felt strong to bring you the courage to be strong now. Spend one-minute in a superhero stance to center yourself in that memory of courage and strength.
    • Find your pocket of joy and allow yourself to experience it. We often miss or turn away from moments of joy in times of change, trauma, or crises because we feel that we shouldn’t be allowed to experience it when the world feels like it’s coming down around us. But joy, levity, and happiness are what connect us to each other and to our humanity, and that connection is what keeps us going during challenging times. So what brings a smile to your face? Perhaps it’s going for a walk, or being in nature, holding a child while they sleep, singing, dancing, or building a fort and not caring if it doesn’t get cleaned up.  If you can’t find joy, please reach out for help
    • Practice remembering the good. This current sadness is on a timeline. Find points on your timeline that were good. Start with a memory: When did you make your first snowman? What is your favorite smell, and when was the last time you smelled it? When was a time you felt particularly proud of yourself as a child? Find the magic in your memories so that they can sustain you and help you meet your needs as a caregiver.
    • Check-in with one another. No one is experiencing this in the same way. We need to hear each other’s stories and bring each other hope. 

To all of the parents, caregivers, and educators in our AMAZEworks community: We are rooting for you. We are in awe of your patience, resilience, and the many ways you are adapting to all of this change. Hang in there. Be kind to yourself and one another. We are in this with you. We are in this together.

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