I’m Jewish, and we sit shiva, which means for seven days, normally, people would be coming in and out of the house constantly, grieving with you, sitting with you, bringing you food, comforting you, telling stories, sharing memories. It’s a really meaningful part of the grieving process.
And we couldn’t have that, of course. You come back from burying your father, and nobody is there. People FaceTime; people call. But it’s not the same as physical presence.
One of the things that I noticed is that if somebody died of something unrelated to COVID-19, it’s almost like, because everything is surreal for everybody right now, you don’t feel as alone. You feel like, Wow, my world has been shaken up and there’s no normalcy to my life. But there’s no normalcy anywhere. There’s a collective grief. Everybody’s grief is unique to them, but I also feel like there’s also a collective grief that we’re all sharing.
Wells: That was actually something I wanted to ask you—if it’s appropriate to call that feeling grief. What does grief really mean?
Gottlieb: Grief is the pain of loss. And it doesn’t have to be a death. It’s any kind of loss that causes you pain. People are minimizing certain losses because they feel like they aren’t valid. You’re missing your college graduation, for example. That’s a loss, and you grieve that. But it’s not the loss of a life, for example, or the loss of a job. As I always say: There’s no hierarchy of pain. There’s no hierarchy of grief. Grief is grief and loss is loss.
Wells: Why don’t we ask you a couple of questions on behalf of our listeners? We’ve gotten many that we thought you were best suited to answer.
James Hamblin: We have a listener question here, a very thoughtful one:
Hi. I graduated college last May, and I landed an amazing job that I loved, with great people and health care and a living wage. Unfortunately, I was laid off due to COVID. I’ve fallen into an extremely deep depression from this economic downturn and quarantine. And I don’t know what to do about it. And I’m trying to stay mindful, but I guess I’m wondering if there are any ways to stay productive. Does it matter if I’m being productive? Should I just chill out? I just feel so completely lost and directionless and can’t cope with this. It’s not even a real question. I’m just in deep distress.
Gottlieb: It is a real question. I think what she’s asking is how to deal with her depression. One thing she’s trying to do is to try to be productive, because she doesn’t have the job now and she doesn’t quite know what to do with herself.
But being productive is not going to help her manage the underlying loss. We’re going back to grief. This was a huge loss. A lot of our sense of self is tied up in what we’re doing every day. The usual Here’s what I do; here’s who I am. And so all of a sudden, she’s got this big blank every day when she wakes up. What is she going to do?