Striving for Empathy

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It’s hard not to be overwhelmed by the current state of our nation.  I’ve been trying to process my own feelings all week. I do not consider myself an appropriate authority to discuss race relations, and I didn’t start this blog to discuss current events.  But I can talk about grief.  I understand grief.  And I think that George Floyd’s death and the resulting protests are emblematic of the profound grief being experienced by many Americans. 

We tend to think of grief as a five-step linear process: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance.  That was the original grief model described in the 1960’s by Swiss psychiatrist Kubler-Ross after working with multiple terminally ill patients.  However, as our understanding of loss has evolved, new models have been introduced.  The most helpful I’ve seen is the “kaleidoscope of grief” which lists eight common feelings/thoughts that come and go in no particular order in the months following a loss.  These eight feelings are: 

  • Deep sadness, because you find the situation unacceptable, but can’t change it
  • Loneliness and longing for what you have lost
  • Trying to escape the pain by doing anything for relief
  • Getting on with your life and putting the past behind you
  • Accepting the situation and feeling like you will be alright
  • Questioning your sanity and seeking reassurance
  • Trying to make sense of the loss by blaming yourself (guilt) or someone else (anger)
  • Shock and denial in order to protect yourself from the impact of the loss

Since early March the world has been adjusting to a new social reality.  Hundreds of thousands of families have lost loved ones; and those of us who have not, have still dealt with the loss of our “before lives.”  We lost our sense of control and safety.  We’ve been isolated from loved ones and missed important life events.  We’ve lost jobs and incomes.  And we’re losing hope that things will ever be the same again. 

For me, and maybe for many of you, it’s easy for me to diagnose many of my quarantine actions using this kaleidoscope of grief.  I’ve been very lonely and missing my family; I’ve tried to escape through hours of Netflix; I’ve sought reassurance from many people that my quarantine actions were “appropriate”; I’ve blamed elected officials; and I’ve tried to downplay the virus and ignore its impact.  Because I can see my own behaviors through the lens of loss, I can also find the compassion for my fellow Americans who are reacting differently.  Our world has changed, and we each walk our own path to acceptance.

It has been harder for me, and maybe for some of my readers, to find the same compassion for the rioters.  Like many white Americans, I was deeply saddened by George Floyd’s death and understood the protests.  But I could not rationalize the violence until it was framed for me in the context of grief.

I assume many of my readers have experienced or know someone who experienced pregnancy loss or infertility.  If so, you understand the waves of emotions that crash over you after each failed pregnancy or each unsuccessful cycle of trying to conceive.  You understand the immense frustration that builds watching other people – no more deserving than you – build a family when you can’t.  You understand the utter desperation from feeling like you’re doing everything right but are unable to achieve your goals.  You understand the anger and rage that follows the insensitive, ignorant comments from people who have no experience with your pain.  There are times when you want to lie in bed all day and cry.  There are times when you want to run around screaming at the top of your lungs.  And there are times when you want people to see you – really see you – and recognize the depth of your agony, even if they can’t do anything about it.

But we move past infertility.  Even though our feelings of loss may never completely go away, in one way or another we all stop trying to conceive.  But you don’t ever stop being black.  So, I can understand how the recurrent experience of injustice and inequity would sometimes become too much to bear.  I imagine it must be the ultimate loss to realize that the system doesn’t work in your favor.  In that situation, I might get angry and want to break shit too. 

The Author

Megan is an amateur blogger and a professional businessperson. She is the co-founder of Recurrent Pregnancy Loss Association, which is dedicated to funding research into the causes of and treatments for repeat miscarriage. (rplassociation.org)

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