On Grief and Hope during COVID-19

Today is Good Friday for some people who celebrate, a night of Passover for some people who celebrate, and the last weekday of another very long week of our global pandemic for all of us. Those two holidays and the state of the world at the moment have me oscillating between two main themes at the moment – grief and hope.

Today, the global death toll passed 1,000,000 deaths from COVID-19. It is quite easy to be swallowed up in deep grief and fear. I am sure we all know many, many people who have been infected or otherwise affected through the loss of loved ones, of jobs, of stability, and so much else. It is a heartbreaking, holy week.

As a child life specialist, I am torn and weary. I am not currently working in a hot spot. There have been a few cases of COVID-19 at my place of work, but mainly the patient census is low and we sit in anxious anticipation of a surge, caring for only the sickest of sick children as those who can stay far away from any potential exposure. We all wear masks and make up silly ways to help everyone wash their hands for at least 20 seconds. We draw all over the sidewalks outside the entrance to the hospital with chalk, writing messages of hope, inspiration, and strength so that we might bring a smile and a second wind to the many patients, families, and staff people who enter and exit the hospital doors. I talk with children, parents, and caregivers from doorways, over telephones, and over virtual platforms to preserve what PPE we have. I’ve made many puppet shows in doorways, enacting anything from the entirety of Disney’s Frozen with sock puppets to whatever silly storyline will brighten the day of increasingly isolated and lonely children. I’ve listened to overwhelmed and anxious parents, forced for their safety and the safety of their child to be alone at the bedside, juggling difficult news and challenging treatments without their usual physical support system. We dig deep. We advocate for new ways to meet the strange new challenges of pandemic times so that families can be together whether in person or virtually to meet new infants, stay in touch over lengthy hospitalizations, and say goodbye at end of life.

I haven’t written much in quite a while, especially about the pandemic because I haven’t known what to say, because there’s too much to say, and because so many people are already saying so much. For advice on talking with children in a developmentally appropriate way about the pandemic or for activities to support coping in this strange and difficult time, I suggest these blogs and posts from child life specialists Deb Vilas (PediaPlay https://pediaplay.com/), Shani Thornton (Child Life Mommy https://childlifemommy.com/family-activity-to-help-during-covid-19-isolation/), and Genevieve Lowry (DIY: Child Life https://diychildlife.com/2020/03/16/diy-talking-to-children-about-coronavirus-or-covid-19/).

What I can say at the moment draws from the holidays celebrated by some this time of year. Times are tough. Nothing is easy. Do what you can, whatever you can to help someone else. Hunker down, stay home, isolate, make all the sacrifices we can, and, when it is safe to come back out, to roll the stone away from our doors, wash the blood from the lintel, or take off our masks, let us be so very, very grateful for everything we’ve been missing and longing for, from the presence and physical touch of a friend to a fully stocked toilet paper isle.

Happy Holy Week, happy Passover, and congratulations on making it this far in the pandemic. May we continue to hold one another up in our grief and strengthen one another in hope.

Stay safe and be well.

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