Holding Space for a Virtual Hug
April 7, 2020
I was asked to respond to two questions:
1) What is one message of care or comfort you’d like to provide?
2) How have you been pivoted/been affected and what’s one thing you’ve learned already?
Here’s the message of care I’d like to share with you from the work I’m doing…
“We are all dealing with the collective loss of the world we knew. The world we knew is now gone forever.” – David Kessler
I heard those words and like anyone who has ever experienced loss, I wanted to place my hands on his shoulders, look him in the eyes, and say, “No. no. no. no. no. no. no.” But he wasn’t with me. I was hearing those words on a podcast.
Nevertheless, it didn’t matter. Whether I screamed loudly or my voice started to crack, I don’t know. But, I’d say it over and over and over again until I reversed what he said. “No, the world we knew is NOT gone forever.” I still live in the same place. I still have meaningful work.
And then I realize I’m bargaining. If I can just prove what is still the world I knew before this pandemic, I won’t have to accept that it’s gone.
And then that little voice in my head says, “Bargain much, Sara B?” Sara B, that’s what my mom calls me. The words are gentle and loving and confrontational all at the same time.
You see…Bargaining is a classic part of grief.
I hit the “back 15 seconds” button on my podcast player and hear the words again, “The world we knew is now gone forever.”
Who are you, MR. Grief Expert, to tell me “the world we knew is gone forever.” I don’t care that you worked with Elizabeth Kubler Ross on the stages of grief, written books on loss, and making meaning of loss. You’re making me mad. If I’m honest, I’m tossing and turning in bed, angry that you’re keeping me awake. Angry that I’m thinking about this now. I’m trying to go to sleep. Why are you doing this to me?
Go ahead, laugh. Ask the question you’re asking. Ok, I’ll ask it for you, “Who hit the play button on the podcast as you got in bed?”
Of course, there is only one answer. I did.
Who has been avoiding listening to this podcast for a week?
Again, I’ll raise my hand and fess up, that was all me.
Who didn’t want to hear the words, “We are all dealing with the collective loss of the world we knew. The world we knew is now gone forever.”?
Here I am, raising my hand…again… that’s me.
So instead, I’ll toss and turn and try not to feel what I’m feeling. I’ll get all judgy at Brene Brown for interrupting. I’ll judge David Kessler for trying to give words to my feeling because then I can offload the hurt I’m feeling. “Judgment demands punishment.” Heck yes, that I can get on board with, and right now, that judgment is directed at the podcast, at your words, at the actions you’re taking.
And right about here, if I could, I’d insert the sound of screeching brakes.
If all of that sounds horribly unkind, yeah, I know. It does to me too. But that’s what grief does. I bargain. I get angry. I feel depressed. I have fleeting moments of acceptance, but mostly, right now, I want to deny this is happening.
It’s easier to hold it at an arm’s length distance.
And that voice I want to silence with the largest muzzle I can find says to me, “Sure you do. But it’s not easier…. Because if you don’t name it as grief, you can’t feel it.”
“Exactly.” I want to respond sarcastically.
I don’t want to feel it, I say in my best teenage judgmental voice.
Here’s the thing.
I’m in a relatively good place. I still have work, a home, I have food (albeit my cooking, smeh!). What I’m experiencing isn’t like a nurse, a doctor, a parent of the class of 2020. Who am I to feel grief?
“Who are you not to?”
Cute. Isn’t it? Isn’t it great how our brains have the magnificent ability to recall information?
I grumble beneath my breath.
Shush. I say to that memory.
“You can’t shush me.” It responds.
You see, I know better.
Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance, it’s the scaffolding of grief. I see it all around me. There’s no shortage of the scaffolding that makes up grief right now.
I see it in teachers.
I see it in the class of 2020.
I see it in Moms and Dads trying to work from home and teach kids at home.
I see it in friends’ posts on Facebook and Instagram.
I see it in Zoom calls and text messages and I hear it in colleagues’ voices.
I see it in grandparents standing outside windows.
I see it in pastors praying on Facebook.
I see it in Governors, Directors of Health, and Grocery store clerks.
I see it in Doctors and Nurses.
I see it in wives and husbands.
I see it in aunties and uncles and sisters and brothers.
I see it in my neighbors drawing with chalk on the sidewalk.
I see it in the husband and wife having groceries delivered by their daughter.
I see it in on tv, social media, and in my email inbox.
I see it…when I look in the mirror.
And, dear one, so do you.
The world we are accustomed to is gone. Forever.
We are collectively grieving.
Said simply, “Grief is the death of something.” And, “just like every other loss, we didn’t know what we had until it was gone.”
So as I coach Christian leaders – pastors and church leaders, it would be easy to say “this is what you do.” You lead others through loss and longings all the time. Yes, I do. But, this collective grief requires that I hold space for a virtual hug while recognizing there is no way I can get through this without you doing the same for me.
So what has changed?
Everything and nothing.
I still teach people how to leverage their strengths. I still am facilitating Brene Brown’s courage building curriculum, Dare to Lead. I’m still podcasting and blogging and attending Zoom meetings and posting a daily devotional to equip people to follow Jesus every day.
But what has changed is this: I’ve come to recognize that the work I’m doing is now happening in the midst of massive, collective grief. And to deny that reality is to deny the people I lead and serve the space to be human, to be whole, and to become who God created them to be.
That alone means I had to pivot. I had to pivot from to-do lists to meaningful moment lists. What do I mean? Instead of focusing on getting a task done, I focus on how this task facilitates a meaningful moment for people. I don’t always get it right. Because, like you, I’m experiencing loss. But here are a few of the meaningful moments I’ve tried to introduce to hold space for a virtual hug. A daily email that arrives at 5:00 am inviting people to read a passage of scripture, reflect on a written story, respond in prayer. At 8 p.m., I post a question on Facebook, inviting people to name and remember how is God is with them. Sometimes the question is for one person. Sometimes for 25. The number doesn’t matter. There are now weekly Facebook lives that are becoming meaningful moments to share, talk, and celebrate where God is moving. The podcast, emails, and three blogs a week are what we’re doing to hold space for others to make meaningful connections with one another, with God, and with their community.