Love and Loss – Coping with Our Emotions in the Era of Covid-19

Posted on Aug 5, 2020 in Wellness Committee | 0 comments

Love and Loss – Coping with Our Emotions in the Era of Covid

For those of us who work on the nursing units at ABSMC, the death of Janine Paiste-Ponder was a body blow.  An amazing nurse, teammate, human being gone suddenly, and she died in our ED. Wow, still shocks me as I see it in print now.  

“Feelings” are feelings because they are an embodied phenomenon.  Emotions are not just in our heads they are in our hearts and bodies.  The loss of Janine has felt like a body blow because I felt so many powerful emotions – some at the same time, sometimes different ones in waves.

Covid continues to turn the world upside down.  Previously, death for me has meant grief. With Janine’s tragic death from Covid, I imagine that many of you felt many more emotions: shock, anger, fear, love and awe in addition to grief. Understanding this might help us cope with our emotions.  In doing so, move forward and heal ourselves with the help of those in our community.  Perhaps, we will be stronger as a result.

Why all these emotions? I am not typically a fan of war analogies, but emotionally this might be the best one we have for facing Covid. We didn’t just loose a friend or co-worker.  We lost someone who was living by her values, putting her life on the line to protect others and our way of life. 

The emotions we are feeling? We are angry at the appalling response of the federal government.  Angry that those who think Covid is just a Democratic Party conspiracy.  Angry at those in this country who are not masking and then want us to put our lives on the line to care for them when they get sick!

We are feeling fear. Her death has moved the virus’s virulence from the abstract to the real. Everyone is more afraid for themselves, for their teammates and families.  Coming to work now is harder as a result.   The virus doesn’t feel “out in the community” now with our PPE to keep it at bay; it has penetrated us.  I know my risk remains small with proper PPE, yet even with my scientific self in the driver’s seat, I admit to quick moments of near panic as I doff and don.

We are feeling compassion.  Our hearts went out to our nursing colleagues who showed up to work last Friday, learned of Janine’s death and then set about doing their job: comforting, medicating, feeding and bathing those under our care. And of feeling of compassion flow each time we step on a nursing unit.  This type of expansive concern is the gift that loss brings and offers us a way forward.  We have lost a sister in the struggle and have a stronger sense of commitment for those still taking on the risk to serve.

It can be overwhelming; we are being buffeted between fear, grief, frustration, anger and compassion – anxious and ruminating all the while.

What I have learned about the “Science of Happiness” is that many of our ideas about a happy life are misguided.  A meaningful life is not one where we avoid negative emotions, but one where we learn to properly take them in as part of an emotionally rich life.  Few things make you feel more alive than profound grief – not a joyful sensation but one is certainly not numb!  We need to take in the negative emotions; we need to sit with them, at first without searching for someone to blame or for solutions, and then we come together to make meaning that takes us forward.

At Summit, now our job is to feel all these emotions.  Sit with them individually as we treasure our loved ones at home. And we need to experience them collectively at work with one-on-one conversations and larger memorializing events. This is how we build stronger relationships, how we create a more connected community and a shared sense of purpose. Then we can work together with open hearts to better face the continued challenge of this virus.  Those of us who knew Janine understand this is how she would have wanted us to move forward.

Leif Hass, MD
Summit Wellness Committee – Chair

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