A therapist friend emailed That Discomfort You’re Feeling is Grief from the Harvard Business Review. Several weeks into profound changes wrought by the pandemic, it is one of the most helpful things I’ve read.

It’s an interview with David Kessler, the world’s foremost experts on grief and founder of www.grief.com. He co-wrote with Elisabeth Kübler-Ross On Grief and Grieving: Finding the Meaning of Grief through the Five Stages of Loss. His new book adds another stage to the process, Finding Meaning: The Sixth Stage of Grief.

Making the Best of a Bad Situation / Jeffrey Gibson

Kessler identifies grief — “a number of different griefs” —as one of the emotions many of us have been feeling as we collectively experience many losses — connection, normalcy, the economic toll, freedom to come and go — to name a few.

“We’re also feeling anticipatory grief…that feeling we get about what the future holds when we’re uncertain. Usually it centers on death. We feel it when someone gets a dire diagnosis or when we have the normal thought that we’ll lose a parent someday. Anticipatory grief is also more broadly imagined futures. There is a storm coming. There’s something bad out there. With a virus, this kind of grief is so confusing for people. Our primitive mind knows something bad is happening, but you can’t see it. This breaks our sense of safety.”

Believe Believe / Jeffrey Gibson

Just seeing that grief has been so strongly at play in my life — often manifesting as fatigue and the need to sleep — helps to soften it. Says Kessler, “When you name it, you feel it and it moves through you.” He describes the stages of grief and the things we can do to help manage or shift it.

  • Find balance in the things you’re thinking.
  • Come into the present.
  • Let go of what you can’t control.
  • Stock up on compassion.

I recommend reading the article to get the nuances of Kessler’s prescription. It is a tonic.

Numbers Too Big To Ignore / Jeffrey Gibson

The artwork at top is by Jeffrey Gibson. It was posted on the Whitney Museum instagram with commentary by Jane Panetta. It resonated so deeply with our dire time that I hunted down others to include here.

“I Know You Have A Lot of Strength Left perfectly captures Jeffrey Gibson’s enduring interest in the capabilities of materials, often those drawn from his Native American background. (Gibson, a 2019 Biennial artist, is a member of the Mississippi band of Choctaw and part Cherokee.) His use of hide, graphic and boldly colored patterning, and metal tacks creates an almost dizzying combination of color and form that references a key relationship for him—one between Indigenous culture and the history of abstraction.⁣

But I also see him as equally concerned with rethinking the possibilities of fusing political gestures of strength with optimism, and even empathy.⁣

When I recently spoke to Jeff about this painting, he explained his interest in ‘the strength of people who have just experienced adversity.’ Above all, he wanted this work to emphasize the ‘you-and-me relationship’ in the world—something he sees as essential, and something acutely pertinent to all of us right now.

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2 replies on “The Discomfort You Feel May Be Grief in Disguise

  1. Thank you Sally.
    Great post.
    Amazingly, I took a photo of that artwork “I think you have a lot of strength left” at, I want to say the Whitney? a few years back, and it’s been the screen saver on my phone ever since.
    Keep up the great work!
    Laura

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