As a grief counselor, I have viewed the stages of pandemic life as a grief process, especially now as I anticipate a “new normal” in post-pandemic life. Now that I’m vaccinated and can go mask-less in most places, I feel anxious and uncertain. I have come to equate mask wearing and social distancing with safety. Will I now feel more free, or more exposed and unsafe?
Grief counselor J. William Worden’s tasks of mourning model[i] has helped me navigate the various phases of the pandemic. Worden describes the four tasks of grief as: (1) accepting the reality of the loss; (2) processing the pain of grief, (3) adjusting to a world without our loved one, or in the case of the pandemic, without our daily routines; and (4) finding an enduring connection with who or what has been lost while embarking on a new life.
We have largely worked through the first three tasks of grief described above. Generally speaking, we have accepted the reality of the pandemic, (the first task) and processed the pain of the losses endured during the pandemic (the second task). With respect to the third task, we have made many adjustments to our lives over the last fourteen months, including lockdowns, face masks, social distancing and life on Zoom.
We are now on the threshold of the fourth task of grief: embarking on a new post-pandemic life. This task of grief involves creating a balance between remembering our loss and living a full and meaningful life. I know that despite the difficulties I endured during this time, I have also learned so much, and have so much to appreciate.
Nonetheless, anxiety and uncertainty about the “new normal” abound: What will the “new normal” look like in a world where I can again socialize without masks and social distancing, as Covid-19 becomes a thing of the past. Will my favorite lockdown YouTube dogs Olive and Mabel continue their antics with play-by-play from their Scottish sportscaster “dad”? How can I justify binge watching shows on Netflix and Hulu once the pandemic is over?
There are some things about life during this time of pandemic that I will actually miss. Being an introvert, I have been comfortable staying home without feeling guilty about it. Practicing with and getting to know my Buddhist community throughout the world on Zoom has been an enormous benefit, and I’ve developed many new connections and friendships with people I may not have otherwise met.
In navigating this fourth task of grief, I have found it helpful to contemplate and journal about what this time has meant to me. Here are some questions to contemplate to help you move forward and navigate the post-pandemic “new normal”:
- What have I learned about myself during this time of pandemic loss?
- What do I want to keep from this grief process, and what do I want to discard?
- Have my values or spiritual beliefs changed during this time, and if so, how?
- What do I appreciate about how I have navigated the pandemic?
- What did I take for granted before the pandemic that I no longer want to take for granted?
May your journey be fruitful, and may you flourish as you shed your pandemic masks.
© 2021. Beth S. Patterson. All rights reserved.
[i] Worden, J.W. (2009). Grief Counseling and Grief Therapy: A Handbook for the Mental Health Practitioner, 4th ed., New York: Springer.