The grief factor
We have lost the world we knew and the lives we lived
Due to the pandemic, we have lost daily habits and activities that defined our lives. Vacation and recreational plans, finances, relationships, social lives, health and safety, beliefs and assumptions about life and the world have all been impacted.
Our children are missing out on rites of passage ‒ graduations, proms, athletic events, summer camps, in-person classes.
At the heart of how we feel about these losses is a misunderstood emotion known as grief. Suppressing and failing to recognize grief can make suffering more painful, deeper and harder to manage. Until we acknowledge our feelings as grief, we cannot move forward.
In addition to the losses caused by the virus, officers face protests and calls for defunding and reforming police that leave officers grieving over the ramifications the turmoil continues to have on the proud and noble profession of policing.
We grieve because the actions of a few are unfairly taken out on officers throughout this country who police ethically and professionally.
What is grief?
Grief is the body’s reaction to loss and to an event that causes sorrow or mental anguish. Grief has psychological, emotional and physical aspects.
Grieving is not a linear experience. The emotion comes in spasms, waves and spirals that interrupt normal activities. Grief doesn’t follow a set pattern or progress through stages. Intense pangs of grief can physically hurt.
How people grieve depends on their relationship to the loss. Men, women, children and the elderly grieve differently.
Hidden within the grief experience are the emotions of fear and anger. Fear arises because the loss changes our lives. We fear additional losses and fear for our safety.
Anger arises from loss of control over life events, that the loss happened to us, that we have been changed and hurt. Anger erupts from violated boundaries either real or perceived.
The Prophet Kahlil Gibran offered a definition of grief: “When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.”
Cops and grief
What makes you a good cop can interfere with your ability to grieve. Suffering a loss causes a sense of vulnerability. Cops don’t take kindly to feeling helpless or vulnerable.
Cops must appear strong and unfazed. They have a hard time tolerating loss of control because they have to be in control to perform their duties. Cops get frustrated when unable to change or influence the outcomes of events.
With this virus, cops can’t right the wrong or stop or control the threat or make the world safe. There is no one to arrest.
The virus proves how vulnerable we are and how little control we have over our health and what happens inside our bodies.
As a cop, everyone you come into contact with ‒ family, friends, co-workers, suspects and citizens ‒ are grieving on some level. People don’t know they are grieving and have suppressed their feelings. Officers should keep in mind that fear and anger are underlying emotions associated with grief and may be the reason for a person’s detrimental behavior. Acknowledge and validate people’s feelings as grief. Showing empathy might avert a use of force incident, gain compliance, or prove to a cop hater that you are human.
Cops have always considered a person a threat until proven otherwise. With this virus, everyone is in the same boat. The persons we come into contact with can endanger our lives.
Coping with grief
We don’t heal from grief; we are changed by it.
We adjust to being this new person living with the aftereffects of the loss or change.
What we need to do to protect ourselves from the virus can exacerbate the grief process. Isolation makes grief work harder. People require physical and emotional safety to manage and adjust to grief. People need social support, hugs and touch, a compassionate person to confide in, and help with life’s responsibilities.
The virus and protests have left officers isolated from the communities they protect. This isolation fuels the divide. Pandemic fear and anger gets twisted into racial protests and hatred of law enforcement.
People compensate by turning to distractions and avoidance behaviors to soothe their grief. These activities help regulate the emotional and stress responses into smaller doses that we can better handle and manage. Playing video or board games, solving puzzles, reading, watching television, exercise, housecleaning and yard work can be helpful if they don’t become excessive or addictive.
Cultivate healthy ways to adapt like talking to friends and loved ones via the phone, meditating, keeping a journal, or engaging in moving exercises like yoga, tai chi, or dancing.
Creative pursuits such as drawing, painting, woodworking, needle crafts, or writing are proven strategies to help adjust to a loss and deal with grief.
Designing a ritual that commemorates the loss (the purpose of funerals) can facilitate acceptance and letting go.
William Shakespeare wrote: “Give sorrow words; the grief that does not speak whispers the o’er-fraught heart and bid it break.”
Perception of the event affects the way we grieve. Quality of life going forward depends on how we interpret, categorize and integrate the experience within the context of our lives.
There is an old adage in psychology: must feel to heal.
Find Meaning in the Loss
Viktor E. Frankl, holocaust survivor, psychiatrist and author of “Man’s Search for Meaning” said: “Suffering ceases to be suffering at the moment it finds meaning.”
Protests are a grief reaction. They are a way for people to find meaning in a loss. Keep that in mind as you protect and serve and put your life on the line.
We must find and assign meaning to incorporate loss into our life. That meaning will be different for each of us.
Routines that make up our lives can vanish in a second. Our concept of policing can change overnight. How will that knowledge define your life and career going forward?
Search for the meaning that will help you heal and move on.
In doing so, you might make the world a better place.
Adjusting to a life we never expected
We may never go back to the world we had before this pandemic breached our shores and invaded our lives. We may never return to the way we policed before the Minneapolis incident. We may grieve for the lives and careers we used to have for generations.
What is in our control is how we choose to deal with and adapt to the loss and how we move forward.
Copyright©2020 Barbara A. Schwartz All Rights Reserved. No part of this article may be reproduced in any manner without the expressed written consent of the author.
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