Grief and the Pandemic

By Rabbi Renée Bauer

As we begin the sixth week of the “Safer at Home” order from the governor and at least that long living with social distancing protocols, we are feeling the effects of this global crisis. Among the many responses we are feeling, we are grieving. While, tragically, some of us know people who have died from the virus, so far most of us have not experienced the worst effects of COVID-19.

Nonetheless we have all experienced loss. The loss could be as simple as no longer being able to stop by the coffee shop where the barista knows our order or not being able to do our regular exercise routine at the gym. It could be the loss of our weekly lunch date with a friend or the cancellation of the performance we wanted to attend. It could be the travel that has been postponed or the visitor that cannot come to see us. Or it could be a bigger loss of not being allowed to see our loved one who in an isolated living situation, of forgoing a lifecycle event, or of having been alone for Passover. We may have lost our job or our income.

For those of us who have a home stocked with food and the blessing of good health, it may seem arrogant and inappropriate to grieve smaller losses. But grieving will serve us. It is through the process of acknowledging our feelings of sadness and anger that we can begin to settle into this new normal and open our hearts to those who are suffering more than we are.

Grief comes in waves, not in stages. It is not linear and it is not orderly, but it often includes denial, anger, bargaining for change, depression, and eventually acceptance. I know I have felt all these feelings since the pandemic began, and I suspect I am not alone. We are each grieving the loss of life as we knew it. I pray that this is the only grief we will face during this crisis.

As we continue to live in isolation from one and another let us take time to feel the loss. And let us be gentle with ourselves and others when we are impatient, unkind or unhelpful. We can notice that these are normal reactions to grief and loss and then apologize and forgive.

Jewish tradition has brilliant and elaborate customs that structure the grieving process. They help us to come to terms with change and loss. They give us guidance and opportunities for reflection and reconciliation. Jewish tradition also teaches us that we cannot live continually inside our grief. Public mourning practices are suspended on Shabbat and holidays, forcing us to acknowledge our grief and continue to find ways to celebrate. As we shelter in place, let us find moments of peace and joy that give us renewed strength and compassion for the days and weeks ahead.

Rabbi Renée Bauer is the director of chaplaincy and outreach at Jewish Social Services of Madison in Madison, WI.  She was ordained by the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College and earned her B.A. from Brown University.

Disclaimer: The From Our Rabbis feature seeks to provide a platform representing the diversity of our community clergy. The views, information, or opinions expressed in the From Our Rabbis articles are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of the Jewish Federation of Madison.