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  • Lara Krawchuk, LCSW, MPH

Chronic Sorrow in the Time of COVID

It has been awhile since I wrote. I have been busy living life the best I can in these strange times. Navigating the demands of a busy practice and a hectic family life in a pandemic has been tough. There have been many challenges. Virtual school has been a triumph for one of my children and a real struggle for the other. My emotions seem to shift depending on the moods of those I love the most. Life is certainly not what I predicted for 2020.

Last night I had a bit of outdoor fun with some friends and this morning I woke up really sad. Why sad after a rare shared celebration? At first it seemed odd, so I took time to reflect and eventually realized that my sorrow actually made perfect sense. COVID has been a time of pulling back. So much less of the people, places & things I love. A safety first a state of mind. Insistent, anxious parts constantly chirping in my ears. Other parts of me waiting, hoping, sometimes praying for change. At first, all the life alteration felt like a short-term situation, but as the months dragged on and COVID cases have again started to rise, I understand that difficult changes in our world will likely continue. This makes me very sad. Last night I was happy and this morning I am sad. I am living in a state of chronic sorrow.

Chronic Sorrow is a kind of grief that accompanies living losses with no end in sight. Living with life-threatening illness, infertility, parenting a child with a disability, experiencing racism, moving far away from the beloved land of your birth, witnessing a parent lose mobility or mental acuity; all of these can all usher in a chronic kind of sorrow. A deep sadness that regularly ebbs and flows, but always returns. Chronic sorrow is a natural response to losses without clear endings.

COVID is a cause for chronic sorrow in so many ways. Our losses are many and meaningful. There are real consequences related to these losses. There is no clear end date in sight. You may wonder if “normal” is ever to return. Will we need to adjust to a “new normal”? Blech! I want the way things used to be. I do not want a “new normal” and please just do not make me look for the “silver lining”! I decline acceptance thank you very much and yet I feel deeply grateful for what remains. These are the sounds of chronic sorrow. Sadness, protest and longing mixed with a regular dose of joy. All this emotion can, and should, co-exist in times of sustained loss.

The key to coping with chronic sorrow is learning to surf. Each grief wave is big, strong and often daunting. If you try to fight waves they eventually overpower you. This can be exhausting and even dangerous. Instead, I urge you to notice each wave, respect it, and move with it. Flow with its power. You will eventually reach shore. Some waves are bigger and scarier than others, but every wave will ultimately reach solid ground. All waves crest and return to shore. Flow with your emotional waves until your feet feel the glory of sandy shoreline under your feet once again.

If you are struggling with chronic sorrow, please consider these tips for coping:

1) You are NOT alone. Therapists all around the world have their phones ringing off the hooks since COVID began. People are struggling with anxiety and sadness related to sorrow without a clear end point. Remember that chronic losses usher in chronic sorrow. This is normal, but frequently require extra support.

2) Chronic sorrow ebbs and flows. Sadness can be expected to return as long as losses continue. Enjoy the good times and tend with loving kindness to the hard times. Both are important parts of tending to chronic sorrow. All parts of your experience are welcome!

3) Feel what you feel. Honor parts of you that are sad or struggling. Do not let anyone tell you to “accept”, “move on” or “look on the bright side”. This is often not helpful to struggling parts. Instead notice your truth and compassionately honor the struggle.

4) Learn to surf. Flowing with waves of emotion will yield much better results than trying to fight them or push them away. All waves lead back to solid ground. Try to trust this.

5) Ask for help when you feel overwhelmed. Chronic sorrow is really tough. It is often exhausting. It is a sign of strength and wisdom to know when you need help then reach for it.

Sometimes we need a little help naming, claiming and making sense of tough emotions. If you or someone you love is struggling in this time of chronic sorrow remember that help is near. Simply call 610-209-3111 or email us healingconceptsllc@gmail.com. We, at Healing Concepts, LLC would be honored to support your journey towards healing and well-being.

Reference: Roos, Susan (2002). Series in Death, Dying and Bereavement. Chronic Sorrow: A Living Loss (2ndEdition). Routledge/Taylor & Francis Group.

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