November 19, 2020
Members and Friends of Troy Church:
Greetings in the Lord. As I type this note, I’ve just read
a blurb from the New York Times, reporting that the Centers
for Disease Control urge Americans not to travel during the
Thanksgiving holiday and “to consider canceling plans to
spend time with relatives outside their households.”
Governor Beshear made similar statements yesterday.
This pandemic isn’t going away and, indeed, continues to
increase in intensity and injury.
Last week, thanks to the University of Kentucky College of Arts and Sciences, I joined a webinar titled “Happy Holidays- How to Cope in a Covid World.” The presenters were faculty and staff at UK: the dean, a professor, and a clinical psychologist in the counseling offices. The program was really good, and I wanted to share some of the discussion as we approach the holiday season which will look so different than what we might hope or from what we’ve experienced in previous years.
The presenters opened by naming what we’ve been facing these last months: great loss, trauma, and grief. Thanks to Swiss-American psychiatrist Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, a common understanding is that grief affects us in five stages: denial and isolation, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance (from On Death and Dying). It’s not a linear thing, moving from one stage to another. Instead, as we live and cope, we might progress in stages and then regress to an earlier stage (like from depression back to anger). Grief is individual to the griever, and there’s no time limit (end point) to these feelings. Each of us experiences grief, trauma, and loss in unique ways.
The presenters suggested that what we’re experiencing is a national, even global, event, much like the generations that lived through the Great Depression and World War II, with implications for individuals and societies for many years to come. This pandemic is affecting all of us, across the world, upsetting our normal patterns and for many, taking away our usual coping strategies. It’s both individual (self) and collective (society) trauma.
I’ve felt that trauma. Other than church, much of my social interaction (pre-Covid) would come from movies and theater and choral groups. Before we stopped practicing, I sang in two community choruses, and looked forward to those weekly gatherings. I could engage with friends, make new friends, and sing beautiful music together. None of those things are possible right now, and it’s been challenging for me these last months as I’ve struggled to find other coping skills. The quiet was nice for a few weeks, but things got boring pretty fast, and the longer it’s gone, the harder it becomes. Until the presenters named grief, I wouldn’t have described what I’ve been feeling as grief. But it makes more sense to me, now.
Maybe you’ve been grieving, too. Depending on our personal situations, the grief stressors are different (family, work, financial, health, isolation, etc). The presenters reminded participants that grief and trauma can present in many ways: physical issues, behavioral issues, emotional issues, cognitive issues, and spiritual issues.
After they named the larger issues, the presenters offered various coping skills as the holiday season approaches. Some of them you might guess: Name feelings. Be aware of personal needs and try to meet them in healthy and safe ways. Recognize that not everyone will cope in the same way. Find ways to connect, even if they’re new or different. Look for alternatives to customs that aren’t possible right now. Express grief when it comes: allow it to have its place. Make a plan: if you can’t do a favorite activity, choose another one that’s safer. Look through picture books and recall memories of past holidays. Imagine Thanksgiving and Christmas 2021 when things are better. Make phone calls or Zoom chats. Cook a special dinner. Buy flowers for the table (I’ve been doing that every week since Easter Sunday) to remind of the world’s beauty. Don’t wait for others to reach out: initiate contacts with friends and family members. If you’ve lost loved ones: realize that holidays will be different. (Some might want to display photos of the deceased person, others might have a time to share favorite memories or stories of their loved one. Still others might visit a gravesite or share feelings in more intimate ways, with a close friend or confidant. Decide what works best for you!) If normal coping strategies aren’t working anymore, try to find new ones. Talking a walk or drive, just being outside, does wonders to make one feel better. Children learn coping skills from parents and close families: model ways to help them through these days.
As I’ve continued to reflect on this webinar and its teachings, I began thinking of the Psalms. The Book of Psalms is a collection of writings, many expressing the full range of human emotions, from joy and praise to deep grief and agony. As the psalms remind us, people of deep faith have lived through challenging situations before and we can learn from their example.
The words of Psalm 13:
“How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
2 How long must I bear pain in my soul,
and have sorrow in my heart all day long? (vv. 1-2)
But the psalmist doesn’t stop there.
“But I trusted in your steadfast love…” (v. 5)
I offer these words and suggestions to you as we enter this holiday season, in the hope that you can find something helpful. “Trust in God’s steadfast love.” I also invite you to call me or reach out to others in the church. Part of Christian fellowship is caring for each other. I’ve always thought it’s one of the best benefits of being a member of a local congregation. As the hymn goes, “We share our mutual woes; our mutual burdens bear; and often for each other flows the sympathizing tear” (from “Blest Be the Tie that Binds”).
May God be with you this day and forever.