Grief. It’s a painful and complex emotional process that everyone goes through but experiences differently. Defined as “a natural response to loss,” oftentimes when we think of grief, we connect it to the way in which we deal with death. However, we can grieve the loss of jobs, relationships, and routines as well. Today, many people worldwide are grieving the devastation dealt by the COVID-19 virus. As the world slowly returns to some sense of normalcy and paints the picture that things are fine, it is important to remember that it’s okay to still be processing your grief even if it feels as though you’re supposed to be “over it.”
Grieving can become tricky for Black women in particular. Historically, the intersection of tropes and stereotypes associated with gender and race have further complicated Black women’s relationship with it. For example, “the strong Black woman” trope is a misconception that Black women are superhuman and unbreakable, able to get through anything. The stereotypical view of women as simply “emotional beings” is also counterproductive to any normal response to grief. Are Black women strong? Yes. Can women be in touch with their emotions? Absolutely. The problem is these narratives can be harmful when viewed as absolutes. This positions a Black woman to feel like she has to do mental gymnastics in order to figure out what emotions are socially acceptable as opposed to doing what feels natural, like acknowledging feelings (i.e., sadness, anger, denial, apathy, etc.)
Situations like this can make experiencing grief, especially during a global pandemic, feel scary, painful, and isolating. But know there is not only power in understanding your grief but also power in, as the younger generation would say, feeling all of the feels.
The day you decide to not process your grief, your ability to be fully present and effectively connect with others and new experiences is no longer possible because of your brain’s natural protective tendency to disconnect from extreme emotional discomfort. So, you bury it. You “move on.” Or at least you think you move on, but in reality, you’re just existing. Truly living requires letting go of the fear of the highs and lows that life brings. I encourage you to live. You should be able to trust your ability to heal and thrive after any loss. But how do we get to that point of being confident in the way we cope with grief? Here are some helpful tips for navigating such pain.
It’s ok to not have the right words to describe what is going on within.
Believe it or not, communicating that you can’t communicate what exactly you’re feeling is a strength. It demonstrates your awareness and connection to your body and feelings.
There is not one way to grieve.
Everyone processes their heartbreak differently. Even the grieving stages, denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance/hope, vary from person to person. Some people may not experience all stages of grief, while some may stay in a particular stage longer. Others toggle between stages, or even experience them out of order.
Become comfortable with going to what may feel like the darkest parts of yourself.
I say “what may feel like the darkest parts of yourself” because “darkest” has a negative connotation, but it actually is just a side of you that feels uncomfortable. The behaviors and moods that may take place could present as socially unacceptable, so it can feel dark and unpleasant.
Know your feelings are valid.
Do not let people’s inability to empathize with your pain make you feel as though your grief is not valid.
Be gracious with yourself.
Your mind, body, and spirit is doing what feels safe and comfortable. Shaming your way of coping is damaging to the healing process.
Don’t be afraid to reach out for additional support.
When you are struggling, support can come in the form of friends, healthy activities, family, and/or mental health professionals. If you are having thoughts of harming yourself, there are hotlines available such as 800-273-8255, which is the National Suicide Prevention Hotline. Seeking support in time of a crisis is a strength and not weakness. There is power in reaching in and reaching out.