Grief and Gratitude, #CopingwithCOVID19
By Emily Larson
As part of my calling, I was asked to read through the For the Strength of Youth pamphlet and pick a standard that I’d like to present on to send to the youth in my ward. When I read the request, I audibly groaned. I have detested that little pamphlet ever since my own youth, when a fellow Mormon in our school would hand them out to other students and my friends would approach me and ask if I really believed and lived by everything in that book (reader, I did not).
So I read through the pamphlet and rolled my eyes at both the vague language as well as the absurdity of some of the standards. Like, in Music and Dancing, “do not use positions or moves that are suggestive of sexual or violent behavior.” Are people doing suggestive violence in their dancing? Are there new dance moves mimicking a guillotine? Are we doing punch-dancing now? And, most importantly, does this mean I can’t use finger guns anymore?!
After going through the whole pamphlet, I eventually settled on the standard of Gratitude. I can always get behind Gratitude. I have kept gratitude journals, I have had months where I purposefully have only said prayers of gratitude. Ultimately, I think keeping a spirit of gratitude in my heart and liberally expressing gratitude to others makes me happier.
But right now, I admit that I’m having a hard time feeling grateful. I live outside the US (my home country), and we are under very strict lockdown conditions because of COVID-19. I feel like, little by little, my freedoms have been taken away, and now I’m stuck in my home, unable to go outside or even take a walk. Our borders are closed – we can’t fly back to the US even if we want to. Intellectually, I know that I have so much to feel grateful for. I am here together with my husband and children, and we are healthy. We have all the temporal things we need to stay hunkered down, safe, and well-fed. Nobody in my house is a front-line worker, so our likelihood of being exposed to this disease is low. We have access to medical care if we need it. I know I should feel grateful for those things, but instead of gratitude, all I feel is grief. I wish I could go outside. I wish I could wave to my neighbors from the sidewalk. I wish I could run to the grocery store to grab that one thing I forgot. I wish I could check in on my family members. I’m worried that I will miss weddings and funerals, and that I won’t be able to see family in the US this summer as we had planned. Everything feels so uncertain, and I am grieving.
I’ve come to believe that grief is not in opposition to gratitude; in fact, grief is a bedfellow of gratitude. Expressing grief can actually be a form of expressing gratitude. When we grieve something, it’s because we are grateful we had it in the first place. I am sad that I lost time to be with friends, and I am grateful that I have had the time I’ve spent with them. I’m sad that I can’t go outside, and I am grateful for nature and the peace I feel in it. I’m sad that I can’t travel to see my family, and I’m grateful that I have the means to travel to see my family when restrictions are lifted.
I also think that recognizing the gratitude in our grief can move us toward hope. Feeling grateful doesn’t negate the grief, but it can help us process why the things we grieve are important to us, and help us hope for a day when they are restored. I found this a lot when my dad died a few years ago – I didn’t know whether I really believed in an afterlife, or whether I would see my dad again. It was really hard to grapple with the idea that I wouldn’t see him again, and I deeply grieved his passing. But now, years later, I hope for it. I still don’t know if I believe that I’ll see him, but I hope that I will. And that hope, born of both grief and gratitude for the time I had with him before he died, lifts me and sustains me.
So when I present to the youth about gratitude in this time of uncertainty, I plan to tell them about grief. I want them to know that they can hold two seemingly conflicting feelings together – that grief is an expression of gratitude, and that exploring that gratitude can move us to a place of hope. This doesn’t mean that we should minimize our losses and tell people they should be grateful instead of grieving. Quite the opposite – we should help each other realize that when we feel grief, it’s because we had something worth grieving, and recognizing the impact and significance of our loss and grieving it is an expression of gratitude. No loss is too small to mourn, we are all experiencing some form of loss, and just because somebody has a bigger loss or a harder circumstance doesn’t mean that our losses aren’t worth grieving, too. And that grieving might take a long time, and there’s nothing wrong with that, and it doesn’t make us unfaithful or ungrateful to grieve our losses. And I will tell them that eventually, out of grief and gratitude, hope can spring up and carry us through.