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STAGES OF A PANDEMIC EXPERIENCE

Most everyone is familiar with the 5 stages of grief that people normally experience after the death of a loved one, particularly one in their immediate family. We were told more than once during those times of grief to not expect the stages to come in order: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance. We were warned that when one stage seemed to be “completed,” we should be prepared for it to sneak up on us again when we least expected it.


There hasn’t been much written about it yet, that I’ve seen, but surely there are emotional and psychological stages of the grief associated with living through a pandemic. They may not be the same as the stages of grieving the loss of a loved one, but they definitely come and go and change dramatically over time. Over such a seemingly VERY long time.


I would imagine shock is combined with the denial stage or perhaps precedes it. I don’t know about you, but I definitely think a lot of us were in shock when this happened to all of us in this country, and throughout the world, at approximately the same time without a lot of warning. This kind of thing just doesn’t happen. You don’t close down entire cities and tell every single person that they should stay home. It was too much to take in for a time - and it still is if you let your mind go there for very long.


But it did happen. To all of us. And something kind of amazing also happened, like after 9/11. People were caring and tender and showed love and concern for each other. I recently looked back at some of my journaling and social media posts from those first few weeks and it became clear that at least I was in a very different headspace at that time. I posted about or shared beautiful music and hymns. I joined others in finding out what needs our “neighbors” may have. I noticed things - everywhere. It seemed that God was trying to send me messages of love and reassurance at every turn and I felt strangely alive in a way that I hadn’t in a very long time.


The photograph with this post was from one of those moments. I was having a particularly sad day when I went to the UPS store to send a package to my daughter. As I was “masking up” in preparation to leave my car, I glanced at the vehicle parked next to me and saw this verse (Romans 8:28) printed on the side. I wanted it documented because at least to me it seemed unbelievable. This was the verse that my mother most often wrote at the bottom of every card or letter she sent to me. We never discussed it; to be honest, in my younger years I didn’t even look it up to see what it said. But after I did, through the years it meant something different to me every time. I’ve come to realize that’s what people are referring to when they say the Bible is a “living” book and message for us. The meaning and inspiration tends to change or speak to you in a new way, depending on what you are experiencing at that time in your life.


I saw birds in a whole new way. We had visits to our bird feeders from species we had never seen after living in the same area for 20 years. And it was like each one was bringing a message. Because the outdoor areas and roads were empty for such a long period of time, a lot of animals became more brave and came out of hiding. The pollution and overall air quality improved greatly and there was no constant roar of Atlanta traffic. In spite of the fear of the unknown and sudden isolation, there was so much beauty everywhere. It turned out to be one of the prettiest spring seasons we had experienced in Atlanta in years and the weather enabled families to go outside together, to walk, to have picnics, to talk with each other and live in a very different way.


Two of my very good friends (both excellent writers) warned me when I decided to take up writing blog posts that I may want to hold a few in reserve for times when I felt like I had nothing to share - “It happens,” they said. I didn’t believe it. I was so overcome and excited about things I wanted to share and write about; I figured they just didn’t understand the way I was feeling. I literally went to sleep and awoke each and every day overflowing with ideas and thoughts I wanted to share. I was unable to turn off this part of my brain and I loved it.


Then came another one of those pesky stages of pandemic grief. Wow. They were right. And I hadn’t held any of those posts in reserve. I was exhausted in a way I had never experienced considering I really wasn’t doing much, and the last thing I felt like doing was trying to put enough thoughts together that they would make sense for someone (even myself) to read and understand. After all, one of my goals in doing this was to inspire some folks to consider using a blog to express their thoughts and to reach others who may be going through something similar. Now what?


I started reading more, praying more, and focusing on things related to my church. As I’ve said before, I do NOT like the phone; but I even found myself calling some friends to try and reconnect with people and the world. Nothing.


During a recent cloudy and dreary day, I just had to get out of the house for a while. I thought I would go on one of my usual long drives while listening to some of my favorite music, but I just ended up pulling into a parking space at the nearby grocery store. I started watching people. People going into the store and coming out to their cars. Workers covering their heads and pulling their jackets a little tighter to deflect the wind and mist while gathering carts to bring back inside. Moms looking overtired with several children in tow wearing cute, tiny masks.


You miss so many facial expressions when masks cover most of the face, but it is amazing what the eyes can “say.” I’ve learned to search for the crinkles near the eyes, showing a smile and joy. And, man, can eyes show weariness - like nothing else, really.


Somehow watching all of the different people from my car that day, unable to hear their words but catching the “expression” in their eyes and paying attention to their movement, I began to feel more like I had close to 10 months ago. I felt care and concern for these strangers instead of feeling frustrated and annoyed. I wanted to hug them, pray for and with them; but really, just sitting beside them in silence sounded wonderful. And, there it was. I had been focusing so much on myself and how I had been feeling and experiencing everything (a problem with too much isolation and phone phobia) that I had forgotten to notice things. I had forgotten to stop a minute and look at another person, not just as the one ahead of me in line that had WAY too many items for the express line or the person waving a political sign on the street corner, but as another person accompanying me in some stage of this pandemic grief.



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nascatpat
nascatpat
Jan 15, 2021

So beautifully written. Reading this made me appreciate my job in a new way.

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Thank you, Janice. I needed this today. I noticed this morning that I was feeling down, sad, maybe even depressed. I just need to focus on others.

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