Grief, Grievances and the Gift of Forgiveness
"Optimists say that from adversity springs opportunity and growth. This COVID-19 pandemic is an opportunity to reflect upon who we are; what we value and believe; and where we find meaning in our lives. Perhaps not now while we are in the middle of the storm, but in time we will find compassion for this stressful period of our lives and for our reactions to it. We will know that we coped as well as we could and with courage, just as we learnt about ourselves in the process."
by Bruce Everett, CEO APAC at IACCM
I’ve been reflecting upon the impact of this COVID-19 pandemic upon the feelings associated with loss. Loss of certainty (and its partner, fear); loss of freedom (and our various reactions to compliance); loss of purpose and a sense of hope for the future. As people who like to control our own destiny, the loss of control is particularly galling as we feel that things are being done to us and not by us.
We are confused, sad and angry and, at least in Australia with the second wave of infections, we are moving from a sense of being ‘all in this together’ to blaming those who have not ‘done the right thing’ in other communities, states, or governments.
Our reactions to this sense of loss have paralleled the Kübler-Ross model, or the Five Stages of Grief, which follows the ups and downs of emotions experienced by terminally ill patients prior to death, or people who have lost a loved one. These five stages are typically denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and, ultimately acceptance.
As Kubler-Ross and David Kessler observe, these stages are tools to help us frame and identify what we may be feeling, but they are not stops on some linear timeline in grief. As we’ve seen with the first and now second wave of COVID-19, these emotions can start all over again with new circumstances and triggers.
Nowadays, we are more aware of the mental health issues arising from these feelings and we are encouraged to surround ourselves with loved ones, to have faith, take time off from regular responsibilities, and have good self-care. When we can, we are learning to re-evaluate our values and priorities, and discovering the ‘silver lining in the cloud’ in our greater appreciation for health care workers, teachers, our local communities and our families.
However, as Marguerite Yourcenar says in her book Alexis “Suffering turns us into egotists, for it absorbs us completely: it is later, in the form of memory, that it teaches us compassion.” It is hard to see meaning in loss or grief or suffering, especially when you are in the midst of it.
Yet, finding meaning in this time of COVID-19 will be important. Perhaps we won’t be able to answer the question ‘why did this happen’? Perhaps we will still feel ‘why has this been done to me’?
However, if one of our greatest freedoms is how we react to things, then we will be able to reflect upon our own reactions to these stressful times. Did it bring out the best in us or in our society?
Did it shine a new light on our purpose and what gives our lives meaning?
Did it reveal things about ourselves or our society which we are less keen to see brought to light?
Some of the greatest wisdom has come from those who experienced unspeakable trauma and harm. World War II holocaust survivor and respected psychiatrist Viktor Frankl offered guidance for anyone who suffers in his book Man’s Search for Meaning “The greatest task for any person is to find meaning in his or her life. Frankl saw three possible sources for meaning: in work (doing something significant), in love (caring for another person), and in courage during difficult times. Suffering in and of itself is meaningless; we give our suffering meaning by the way in which we respond to it…Forces beyond your control can take away everything you possess except one thing, your freedom to choose how you will respond to the situation. You cannot control what happens to you in life, but you can always control what you will feel and do about what happens to you.”
David Kessler has recently added a sixth stage to the Kubler-Ross model, which is Finding Meaning.
Many people talk about finding ‘closure’ after a loss, but Kessler talks about learning to remember those who have died with more love than pain and learning to move forward in a way that honours our loved ones.
In finding closure on the feelings associated with this time of COVID-19, will we seek meaning in work, love and courage?
Will we hold onto the grief and grievances associated with a sense of loss or, as Dr Fred Luskin notes in his forgiveness therapy work, hold onto our past grudges at the expense of our present happiness?
As Commercial and Contract Managers (at IACCM), we will hold onto our grievances with our customers or our suppliers?
As he says, you can choose: “just because the world has been crappy to you, it doesn’t mean you have to be crappy back.”
We can also choose to push past the issues of the past (as Luskin calls it “endlessly re-litigating the things that went wrong”) and move forward in collaboration with our customer and supplier partners.
Optimists say that from adversity springs opportunity and growth. This COVID-19 pandemic is an opportunity to reflect upon who we are; what we value and believe; and where we find meaning in our lives.
Perhaps not now while we are in the middle of the storm, but in time we will find compassion for this stressful period of our lives and for our reactions to it.
We will know that we coped as well as we could and with courage, just as we learnt about ourselves in the process.
For more on this topic of forgiveness, watch Dr Fred Luskin on Forgiveness and Optimism in Conversation with the Centre for Optimism at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2gssqRh3oPI and connect at http://www.iaccm.com/
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