For the past couple of months, I’ve been talking a lot about change with my clients. We’ve faced an influx of it: from holding our sessions on our own couches, to having that same space be an area for work and attempted relaxation, to jonesing for a reservation at a restaurant, or consoling a friend whose grandparent died from Covid-19 related symptoms.
With change, comes a recognition that we have lost something. We’ve lost some comforts of life: meeting a friend for lunch in the city, that perfect NYC spring weather, and the feeling of arriving to the subway platform as soon as your train home arrives. We’ve also lost feelings of safety and certainty; each New York Times headline seeming grimmer with each passing day. For some of us, we’ve lost health, financial stability, and family members.
We are all grieving. Grief can take many forms during lockdown:
- Heavy sobs of despair on the couch, using the takeout napkins to blow your nose while the 10th hour of an early 00s sitcom plays it’s laugh track in the background.
- Physical symptoms like muscle tension soreness, migraines, restless sleep, and exhaustion
- Simmering irritability that leads you to snap at the people you love the most.
- Social fatigue and avoidance of online social events
- Inability to concentrate on work or anything pleasurable
Learning from Grief Stories
One way some have been seeking comfort from their grief during lockdown has been to revisit familiar stories. We do this often, as an act of self-soothing, and for a healthy dose of escapism. One story that I often revisit is the grief story of Peter Parker, famously known as Spider-Man. One of my favorite takes on this fellow New Yorker’s story is Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.
Miles is just a kid from Brooklyn trying to survive middle school before he embarks on his first major change of acquiring the life-altering powers from his radioactive spider bite. He finds that he’s not alone in this change, as Peter Parker and other Spider-men, Gwens, and pigs have also experienced a similar life altering change. Miles also soon finds out that with great change comes a great sense of loss.
Spider-Man, in all the various stories, is marked by change, loss, and grief. In each rendition, the superheroes and the villains mourn the loss of a family members’ life. Peter Parker and Miles witness their uncles’ death, Gwen Stacy could not save her best friend, and Penny Parker experiences the death of her father. Through their stories we find roadmaps to navigating our own grief.
To have Great Power is to Experience Great Grief
We see heroes cry; we witness villains seethe with revenge. Both hearts ache with a sense of betrayal of a person gone too soon as well as worry and fear of life changes thrusted upon them before they feel ready. These feelings seem true in the hearts of us all as we navigate through this time of lockdown in new and unexpected ways.
What we can learn from Peter Parker and his friends is it’s not the experience of grief and change that defines us, but how we chose to meet it and make meaning from it, alone and with others. Miles gains confidence in his new powers and finds meaning in his uncle’s death through his newfound social support. He harnesses his loss in his morality, to bring justice to his and others’ injustice.
Healing Our Own Grief Stories
We can take the power within us to begin to meet and heal our grief in many different ways. Here are a few ideas of what you can do about grief:
- Talk about it: A strong social support network can anchor us amongst the waves of grief and help us feel as if we don’t have to experience our pain alone. During my work with clients, we take time to identify their safe and supportive people they can turn to outside of therapy.
- Create meaning: Many of my clients are also finding this life change has ignited a desire for activism. Because they themselves or have witnessed the great loss, they want to help right the wrongs of their neighborhoods, cities, states, and country
- Ask for help: Grief is overwhelming and everchanging. Therapy is a safe space to create for yourself to build self-soothing coping skills tailored, invite compassion and self-exploreation, and strengthen authentic and vulnerable communication
Change is often uncomfortable because we feel we are gaining and losing various aspects of our lives. Still, we can learn to harness the full potential of our power in these difficult moments of grief by acknowledging we are not alone. Someone else can understand and accept your feelings. Maybe it’s Spider-Man, maybe it’s a therapist, maybe it’s both.
If you need support with your grief
Modern Loss https://modernloss.com/our-book/
Stories for meaning making : Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl