Why "We're All in This Together" might come up short for some
October 16, 2020
by Ken Barringer
How are you doing now as opposed to January, 2020? To sum it up; a lot has happened. How are you doing with this state of change and uncertainty? Since March we have been living in a constant state of grief and loss and anticipatory grief and loss. Who you are and how you are going into loss influences how you are going to experience it. Were you balanced, poised, motivated, ambitious when the pandemic began? Were you anxious, lethargic, needing inspiration and direction? Your state of being prior to loss and trauma is not an absolute of how you will manage it, and certainly a loss can vault someone to new, positive spaces. However, the messages we receive about how to go forward can be the tipping point of how we embrace going forward.
Many consumer products from television stations to pizza companies, technology industry to clothing stores have used some version of the slogan, “We’re All in This Together”. A statement about connection and unity as well as group support is extremely helpful and healing. My concern is this: Your grief is not my grief. We’re All in This Together is wonderfully intended and I’m certain has been helpful for many. However, in my grief practice, I’ve had many of those with whom I work feel their personal experience of loss is minimized by this mantra. While several people may not be a large sample size, my 25 plus years of experience working with grievers instinctively tells me these few speak for many. Comparing losses is never a good idea, suffering is suffering. If We’re All in This Together but you had someone die and I lost my job is my loss valid? The answer is yes – your grief is not like my grief. Is there a risk of people minimizing their experience when their loss was not like someone else’s? The truth is we are all in this pandemic together but could we add a bit more to this sentence such as; “what does this mean for you and how are you?”
The group contagion around We’re All in This Together might inadvertently be interpreted or understood as “this affects all of us, you’re no different, you have to be ok if we’re all in this” – which is the opposite of “it’s ok to not be ok”. Grief, loss and bereavement could not be any more different and unique for each person. One of the greatest challenges for the human psyche to embrace might be minimization of our loss. When we push our grief down, avoid it or not feel legitimate in it the grief will go somewhere. Perhaps we become physically ill or injured. Perhaps we sleep or eat too much or not enough. Perhaps our relationships become filled with conflict or sacrificing of self in order to avoid conflict. Perhaps we become scattered and disorganized or hyper organized / controlling. The grief shows up somewhere.
Yes, undoubtedly together we can heal! However, there is a space in togetherness to recognize individual challenges. Without this awareness there is the risk that some may feel silenced and isolated by being together.