When Grief is Stirred and Re-Stirred … and Re-Stirred …

May 4, 2020 | 4 comments

Welcome to our second “Grief Week.” If you missed the first, you can read the posts here and here. COVID-19 has come with so much loss and change; Katie helps explain how your grief stirs up other grief.

Who among you is tired of grief and loss? Who wants to hide and take shelter? Who wants to make a run for it? ME, Too! Sometimes crawling under a fuzzy blanket is just what I want to do…and frankly, sometimes I do!

As John Dewey said, “No experience lives or dies in and of itself.” Our life experiences shape who we are and how we process and experience the happenings in our lives.  So here we are with COVID-19. Why is this experience so different?

As I have been quarantined at home, I have wondered why is this so hard, why do I feel sad, irritated, angry and well…down? My rational, naturally optimistic self is saying: “It’s not so bad, take in the good, enjoy the sweet things,” yet the above emotions continue to arise. I have had some restless sleeps, when generally, I sleep well; I have thought about my parents and other loses. Before COVID-19, I didn’t think as much about my parents or other losses as I have recently. Not because I am pushing them away, but because I have adapted and healed from them. Yet here I am remembering and feeling things I have not felt in quite a while. 

As I talk to others, and ask, “How are you doing?” the consistent response is, “Emotions are all over the place at our house.” 

A friend of mine shared that she was feeling sad, and her child asked, “Why are you so sad?” My friend linked it to struggling with feeling afraid. She shared that she wanted to work to be more joyful in her home. As I thought about her comment, I remembered that she had recently lost a baby to a miscarriage. Then it clicked for me. Of course she is sad, and of course this situation will make the losses more acute.

Much of what is taking place in our world is unknown, full of loss, and it is traumatic, with many implications and much instability. My friend is grieving the loss of her baby and all that is taking place in the trauma of our world is crashing up against that loss. Then I thought about myself. I have been thinking of my parents, both of whom have died, more since the touchdown of COVID-19. Why is that? When instability and unknown is ruling, I find that my grief is often triggered, and I bet you do too. Generally, I love being at home. I enjoy my family, and I am fairly content in life. Why are these emotions arising? At times I have said to myself, “This really is not that different.”   

Actually, it is very different and here is why:

Every loss that you experience impacts the way you process future losses. In our world we are broken, therefore we experience much loss. This idea of loss after loss taking place is called cumulative grief. Our losses impact and add to other grief we have experienced. Each experience impacts the next loss; and then begins to layer on top of the next, however it does not cover over the previous, it somehow stirs all of the losses as it comes down. 

As a cross-cultural worker there is no doubt that cumulative grief is present in many forms. Leaving your home country, moving to another country, settling in that country, and then needing to leave for any number of reasons. For some, you have not been embraced in your country of service, so you might be experiencing the loss of what you thought your life would look like. And the goodbyes? Don’t even get me started. Maybe you are so tired of saying goodbye that you don’t have any energy or ability to make connections with new people, because perhaps they will leave just as all the others have. Add to the mix that at the current moment you wonder what will happen to the ones you love that are far away. 

This is called “anticipatory grief” and it is very real for many. Due to the nature of cross cultural work, anticipatory grief—when you anticipate further grief and loss—is often present. This anticipation of further grief is difficult to navigate. 

How do we continue to engage with life when the realities of grief are real and more separations will come? Adaptation is the goal when losses are present. We will discuss a gentle internal process in the next post for Skill Building Thursday. In the meantime, let’s start to talk about your grief experience. Awareness of your grief/loss is a major part in helping yourself.

How have you have experienced cumulative grief? What are ways you have experienced anticipatory grief? In what ways is grief being stirred for you in our current COVID-19 climate? Begin to think about how you are currently impacted by grief/loss. What questions do you have as you navigate these challenging experiences. I can’t wait to hear from you…until Thursday.

Below are a few additional Resources on this topic for further reading. What questions do you have for me as you read this article?

Cumulative grief aka grief overload aka “holy crap I can’t handle all this loss!!!”

The 5 Psychological Challenges of Loss and Grief

You will forever be marked by this COVID-19 season. How could you not be? Yet debriefing in-person is expensive and often not available. Whether you left or stayed, you have a lot to unpack. Now you can. Start Debriefing today.

Photo by Mahkeo on Unsplash

Katie Brown

Wife, Mama, Counselor, Friend, Grief Specialist




  1. Amy Young

    Katie, thank you for sharing of your own experience and helping us to make sense of our own experiences! I look forward to Thursdays post. Thanks for another great “grief week!”

    • Katie Brown

      Amy, thank you. It is a joy to be part of this community! It is such a gift to know that we are not alone.

  2. T

    When I read this, I realized that I had been thinking a ton about my Mom who died 6 years ago! And that had been way before Mother’s Day, so I hadn’t been sure why. Thanks for helping me think through this!

    • Katie Brown

      Thank you for sharing with me and us! It helps us all to know that we are not alone in our grief and that we have many shared experiences.


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