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Rev. Jennifer Nordstrom, First Unitarian Society of Milwaukee

They say March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb, but in this time of coronavirus, it felt a little more like our March went out like a terrifying beast. Here we are in April, anticipating the virus’s peak, and it is time to grapple with grief.

Grief has many phases and flavors. It behaves like its own strange beast that each of us rides differently. There is no one way to grieve. Grief may show up as shock or numbness, outbursts of anger, attempts at control, waves of sadness, acceptance and adjustment, and meaning making.

The phases of grief are not linear. Grief feels like walking an emotional labyrinth to me—one moment I am traveling close to the center, and the next I am catapulted out to the farthest edge, in movements I cannot foresee. This is all normal. The work of grief is simply to show up for the feeling and its movement, to be present to grief in all its phases and flavors, to allow it to be what it is, and allow it to shift and change, which it will.

As the birds are chirping and the air begins to smell of spring, as unemployment rises and there are lines to get into the grocery store, we are in a time of not knowing what will come. We do not know how the peak of round one of coronavirus will hit our community, our people, or our family. However, from witnessing its work in other communities, we know it might be quite bad. This is a perfect mix for anxiety and anticipatory grief, which might show up in your body and behavior in their own weird and wild ways.

As you ride the waves, remember that your system is doing its best to prepare you to survive. It might be recalling old coping mechanisms, or frantically trying to control whatever is in your power right now. This is normal, too. Your stress response mechanisms are trying to keep you safe in an uncertain situation. If you want to avoid old coping mechanisms that are unhealthy for you, be sure to double-down on your self-care practices and relationships with your support network, as your stress response is likely to be activated.

Be kind to yourself, those you love, and everyone around you. Everyone is likely to be activated and grieving, and in a variety of different ways. Have compassion for yourself and others when your ways differ. Make time for rest, spiritual practice, and self-care. Prioritize love and connection. Pay attention to beauty, and make note of everything for which you are grateful. Strengthen your emotional and spiritual reserves.

I love you. I will see you in church.

-Rev. Jennifer

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