A Landmark Year For Grief

Photo by Mike Labrum on Unsplash

By Amanda Fraser

2020 was a landmark year for grief. It was the beginning & ending of a lot of things. There is more woven into that year than I will ever be able to pick apart or explain without it all unraveling. 

For me, 2020 was knit together with a global pandemic, a shocking tragedy, and the deconstruction of my faith.
 
In early 2020 I became an ordained minister. Instead of this being the end of a journey it was the beginning of one, as all the inconsistencies in my faith began to pile on top of each other. Religious traditions I believed in fully began to crumble in front of me and I began the journey of deconstructing my faith.

Looking back, I can see that my deconstruction had begun long ago, but I began doing the hard work of locating the truth in the mess of religious tradition that had become my faith. I had learned how to be a minister, all the while discovering and exploring the holes I saw in Biblical theology and searching for resources to help ‘fill in’ and define my faith as I knew it. Towards the end of my ordination, I was taking classes on coaching people through the grieving process. Little did I know theoretical classes would leave me no where near able to help people with what was coming.
 
First came the global pandemic. A virus we had never heard of became front page news overnight. (I know every person will understand the fear, grief, loss, and isolation that is wrapped up in 2020).

We as a species have been facing something we never thought we’d have to endure- there has been no blueprint given for how it will go, how many we’ll lose, or how long it will last. The feelings wrapped up in this are difficult and exhausting to sort through.

Then, just as I was beginning to wrap my mind around my faith and preparing my family for an extended period of isolation, our community experienced the largest mass shooting in Canadian history. It was grief piling on top of grief.
 
I lost a friend, countless in our region lost loved ones, and what I can only call a ‘blanket of grief’ descended upon our small towns and surrounding communities. The toll an event like this takes on a small town is immeasurable. The impact is far reaching and overwhelming. It will be years before we even begin to crawl out of the dark and examine how this has changed each person in our province, let alone the people directly affected.
 
I was ill prepared for this amount of sorrow. It seemed as if even our surroundings were lamenting, the sunsets glowed with incredible displays of beauty in the week after, even though when we were outside in our community it almost felt as if every interaction and every step was shrouded by loss. Grief descended.
 
In a time like this, while mired deep in our grief, we have also been responsible for walking with our kids through their own grief and sadness. Missing out on sports, play dates with friends, and isolated to their own backyard. In addition to this, they have struggled with a lessened sense of security.

We fully believed we had shielded our children from the violence that took place. They never knew the morning the gunman was in our area; they didn’t realize that while we snuggled in the living room that morning, we were also keeping an eye on the road in front of our house for an unknown car. But they have witnessed our loss of security and our pain and have felt the change in us. Shortly after the events, some neighbours set off fireworks one night without warning, and our children shot up out of their beds asking if it was gunfire. The work we did to shield them hadn’t protected them at all. In a very real sense, a portion of their innocence has been shattered.
 
We are all going about our day to day lives here with a compounded sense of grief. As if the universe decided we could take more and more and more on top of that. So how do we deal with all this loss, whether it is Covid, or circumstance, a horrific tragedy or just the natural progression of doubts and questions when we take the time to investigate our faith, and wipe away all the excess to see what remains?
 
The stages of grief are well known, but who is to say how each one affects us individually or how much time each one will take to manifest? The lines between these stages are blurred and I know myself that I tend to cycle through the first four stages multiple times in an effort to cope.

When you are in the bargaining stage, who do you bargain with if your faith is on shaky ground? Who do you blame, rage at, ask for help from, or cry to when your faith is precarious, and you no longer believe everything happens for a reason?

The running theme through all these events we have faced, for me, was the loss of security, the need for hyper vigilance, and the hope that at some point we would feel secure and sure footed again.
 
I tend to stay a little longer in the depression stage of grief than I’d like to admit. I check out of my life and binge watch a TV series in order to give my subconscious the time to deal with what’s going on around me. Honestly, I have seen more shows beginning to end in 2020 than in all the other years of my life combined.
 
How do we crawl out of the mire to get to acceptance? This has been the slow work of gaining my footing again.

I don’t know that I’ll ever fully deal with how our lives, our security, and our feelings of safety have been altered. But I do know that I am starting to enjoy the sunrise again. I feel sunshine and warmth on my face in the mornings and I believe it can be a good day.

I am starting to make small talk with strangers when I’m in line to get coffee, and I’m relying a little less on Netflix to get me through evenings when my mind won’t slow down. I’m also taking every opportunity I can to connect: to spend time with friends, to offer a hug or share a laugh or smile, and seizing every opportunity to say “I love you” to the people who matter.
 
The most important thing about grief to remember is that we all experience it differently. Each stage doesn’t have to be classified, and we have to have patience with ourselves and all of the people around us who are working through grief in their own ways.
 
No matter what you have dealt with this year, give yourself time, be patient with yourself, and give yourself lots of love. Get support and be supportive to others who may just need you to walk beside them.
 
2020 was a landmark year for grief, but it was also a banner year for resilience. We saw the residents of our province step up and support victims. We saw people band together to make sure the needs of the less fortunate have been taken care of during the pandemic. I found an online community that was simultaneously walking through the wilderness of deconstruction and opened their arms to me and welcomed me in.

And I realized that even in the darkest times, there is light. Sometimes you cannot see it, sometimes it’s just a sliver, and sometimes a door opens and light bursts through at an alarming speed, letting you know you’re going to survive. And maybe, just maybe, someday things are going to be okay again.
 
 #nsstrong

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Amanda Fraser is a self-professed word nerd with a passion for reading, writing, female empowerment, and is also a complete coffee addict. Amanda became an ordained minister in her mid-30s and is currently working on her Bachelor of Divinity while raising her kids. She recently began an Instagram page, @thoughtsonfaith, to connect with others going through the journey of deconstruction, hoping to ‘light the way’ and offer her thoughts and support. You can also find her on Facebook. “When I am dust, sing these words over my bones; she was a voice.” – The Book of Longings (Sue Monk Kidd)

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