Authored by Dr. Michelle Murray on May 22, 2020

There are many different ways we have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. If we are fortunate enough to not be personally affected economically or medically, we have most certainly been impacted by the ways in which we have had to change our daily routine.

One area of life that has drastically changed is how we celebrate or recognize meaningful life events. Special events like graduation, religious ceremonies, weddings, prom, anniversaries, baby showers, funerals, etc. are important rituals that mark the end of a developmental milestone while ushering in a different, future life stage. Such rituals help people prepare for and transition into a new way of life, and as such, they help people move on successfully.

It is for this reason that it is quite normal for people to feel a great sense of loss and grief about having traditional ways of practicing significant rituals so disrupted, and in most cases, entirely cancelled. I have heard many people reference feeling selfish or guilty about experiencing sadness and grief over their own celebrations being cancelled or changed when they compare their situation with others who are suffering much greater tragedies – like job loss, the death of a loved one, missing the birth of a child, or worse yet, hunger, poverty and racial disparity.

A Sense of Loss and Grief

While is it important to keep our personal challenges in perspective and realize that our own situation could be much worse, it is equally important to understand that feelings are not finite. Meaning that there is not a limited amount of grief, loss and sadness to go around and be shared so that if we are grieving our own situation, it somehow takes away from another’s ability to grieve or somehow diminishes the tragedies experienced by others. It is okay to feel personal grief about the loss of an expected ritual or celebration that has personal meaning, while at the same time experience feelings of sadness and grief regarding the unthinkable challenges that others face.

So what can we do about our grief and sadness regarding the loss of missing an expected life celebration? Let your grief propel you into action and change your perspective from one of loss to opportunity. It only seems like we have lost our ability to celebrate a life transition because we are only imaging traditional or historical ways to celebrate. Our ability to celebrate or ritualize an important event has actually not gone away, it just won’t look the way we expected. Our current worldwide circumstance is merely providing us the opportunity to be creative, redefine what “celebration” looks like, and to actually reset and start a new tradition. The upside - how we choose to celebrate will be entirely different than what has ever been done before. Because of that, it will never be forgotten, and isn’t that the whole point of celebrating something - to capture life’s milestones, never to be forgotten? 
 

Using Sadness to Propel Us

While we are shifting our own sense of loss into a unique opportunity, we can at the same time allow ourselves to feel grief and sadness over the circumstances faced by others. We can do the same thing for others that we did for ourselves - let our grief propel us into action. If we are overwhelmed with feelings of sadness for others, we can find a way to give back, whether through personal advocacy efforts, making a donation and/or by directly serving and helping those in need. Let us not forget - there are enough feelings to go around, and there is enough action to be taken to help those that are less fortunate than us.

Nexus Family Healing is a national nonprofit mental health organization that restores hope for thousands of children and families who come to us for outpatient/community mental health services, foster care and adoption, and residential treatment. For over 45 years, our network of agencies has used innovative, personalized approaches to heal trauma, break cycles of harm, and reshape futures. We believe every child is worth it — and every family matters. Learn more at nexusfamilyhealing.org.