We’ve All Suffered Loss and We Need to Talk About It

We are grateful to Northside Hospital for being there for their community during this difficult time and for the days to come as we emerge from this pandemic. 

Sometimes the journey through a crisis requires us to be strong, but as the crisis recedes, the magnitude of what we have been through strikes us fully. The wall of stoicism we built to survive begins to crumble. Under the most optimal circumstances, life is difficult, but add a layer of pandemic over everything else and you’ve got the perfect storm of challenges to overwhelm or even break us.

And let’s face it, women carry the heaviest emotional load, not only for ourselves, but for our families, spouses, children, parents and even for our friends. Into our hands families place their disappointments, fears and unhappinesses and being the keeper of everyone’s struggles is both a privilege and a burden. 

So, moms, if you feel emotionally exhausted, we get that and when we say exhausted, we mean a weariness that’s bone-deep and that no amount of sleep can rectify.  

And, if something relatively minor triggers a full blown meltdown, we get that too. We moms are strong and capable and can keep many balls in the air at the same time, but sometimes one small, unimportant ball hits the ground and we crack wide open. 

Our mental and physical wellness go hand in hand and one of the most powerful ways we can recover both is by sharing our experiences and supporting each other. Although we have each had our own unique experiences, as individual as those experiences were, there is also an enormous element of shared experience. In the space where my losses overlap with yours, we will find community and comfort in the collective. And the knowledge that you are not alone in your struggles is empowering. 

We asked a group of 200,000 parents (mainly moms of teens) what the hardest thing they faced during the pandemic was — as a woman and as a mother. Their answers tapped into all of our vulnerabilities and shed light on what we need to do as a collective to heal. Here are some of our parents’ struggles and in them we see our own. 

First and foremost, many lost loved ones and their “new normal” will hold a permanently missing seat at the table. Those losses will take years, perhaps decades, to process. As Amy, who lost both her father and husband, told me, there will always be a pre and post-Covid life for those directly impacted by loss. Although they are bravely moving on, Covid will never really be over for these families.

Krista Wurtz’s wife passed away in September 2020 leaving her a single mom to 8 kids. She says, “It’s terrifying and exhausting. I feel like I haven’t even had space to grieve because I have had to be there for them and keep it all together.”

And let’s not forget the moms who worked as front line workers. Leigh, a respiratory therapist, who worked in the Covid ICU told us that she saw more deaths this year than she had during her whole career. She also worked more hours this year than ever before and is concerned that this year’s trauma to health care workers not be overlooked or dismissed. 

nurse with a mask

Many of the mothers who responded said that the financial losses they suffered over the last year have been acute. Merely paying the bills became a challenge. Daisy said that, as the single mother of twins, the hardest part of the pandemic for her “was losing five months of 100% of my income and then two thirds of it for another five months.” Lost jobs and career derailments affected our financial wellness and those losses will take years to recoup.

The stress of the last eighteen months also caused relationships to unravel and  many of our readers reported that their long term marriages had collapsed under the pressure of pandemic life. 

Karen says that, “Her husband of nearly 3 decades decided that he no longer wanted the beautiful life and family they had created together.”

Parents watched helplessly and with great distress as their children lost more than a year of their lives, of their education, of their social life. Seeing our children lose all of those valuable milestone events that come with growing up was devastating. Many of our adult kids had to put their lives on hold for a time.

We are challenged to figure out pandemic social life for those of our kids who are more naturally introverted. We asked Dr. Michele Voeltz, a board-certified physician in internal medicine, cardiology and interventional cardiology at Northside Hospital what we can do to help our kids. She suggested,

As a mom of an introverted teenager I always say when it comes to friends and companions focus on quality, not quantity. If you have one or two people who really get you, that is what’s important. Don’t bottle up what you are feeling, it’s important to have someone that you can talk to.

Dr. Voeltz

She reassuringly added that,

As we are reentering real life, we need to give kids more credit for how flexible they are. As long as we remain positive and focus on family, I think our kids will be just fine. 

Dr. Voeltz

In addition, many of our aging parents struggled with loneliness and illness and not being able to be there for them was crushing. Pam said that the toughest moment for her was watching her parents decline and not being able to visit with them. 

Perhaps Paula summed up the way we moms feel best when she said, “Being the cruise director of this sinking ship” was difficult as was the feeling that she  needed to be “everyone’s cheerleader.”

Jennifer told us that, 

“Not being able to compartmentalize anything-24/7 work, mom, wife, cook, cleaner” was difficult…for the past 13 months…I feel like nothing gets my full attention.” 

Many readers related to the sentiment that although things were getting done, nothing was getting done well. Adrienne became weary of “Trying to be everything to everyone at all times and feeling like I’m not doing anything well.” 

Many of us found it challenging to reassure our families when we had no idea what would happen. We could not control outcomes nor could we protect our families from illness. And we moms were often the ones who had to make the difficult, sometimes impossible calls about what risks our families were willing to take. Tara said her son was “super sad, lonely and anxious” because he had not seen his friends, but did she dare allow them to get together and sit outside in below zero degree weather? She concluded that, 

“There seemed to be a million similar decisions all the time, with no good choices.” 

With gyms closed and exercise classes cancelled, many of us had difficulty controlling our eating and exercising. We ate and we gained weight. Working from home was a positive for many but it made finding a balance between work and home illusive as the lines between home and office blurred. 

Maintaining friendships while not being able to spend time together was hard and the lack of social outlets made us feel cut off from others. The pandemic made many of our readers feel isolated and forced them to question whether their friendships were real. 

In our quest to simply make it through, many of us inadvertently sacrificed aspects of our physical or mental health. Now is the time to reprioritize those. If you overlooked medical care, reach out for it now. And if you are suffering from feelings of sadness or isolation, It’s time to reclaim your mental health as well. 

So how do we come out of this pandemic? How can we help each other as friends, coworkers and sisters process what has happened and adjust to our reentry? Again, we turned to Dr. Voeltz for answers. 

We have to be willing to talk and listen. The only way to decompress is by talking things out. We have to offer support, focus on self-care and always remember that “no” is a complete sentence. We don’t have to do everything that we are offered or see. Additionally, I think it is important to process our losses. We’ve all lost things, jobs, people, family and we need to acknowledge that.

Dr. Voeltz

Dr. Voeltz reminds us that not everything that came out of Covid was bad. Hopefully this period has taught us to enjoy the time we have with our families and that it’s okay not to overschedule yourself but to be in the moment.

Let’s lift each other up and catch each other when we fall. Let’s support each other without comparing losses, without one-upping each other and without judgement. There  is no competition in grief or loss. The only thing that is crystal clear about Covid is that we have all lost something and we need each other more now than ever. Let’s talk about it. #TalkAboutIt

Join us for a Grown & Flown Facebook Live cosponsored by Northside Hospital with Dr. Michele Voeltz of Northside Hospital on July 13 @ 7:00 PM ET to find support and to talk about how we can take care of ourselves and each other.

Dr. Michele D. Voeltz, MD, FACC (Fellow in the American College of Cardiology) is a board-certified physician in internal medicine, cardiology and interventional cardiology. She specializes in complex coronary intervention, multi-vessel stenting and mechanical circulatory support. Her clinical interests are in cardio-obstetrics, heart disease in pregnancy and women’s health. Dr. Voeltz has six children, a number of whom were adopted through foster care.

About Helene Wingens

Helene Wingens has always been passionate about painting pictures with words. She graduated from Brandeis University with a degree in psychology and three years later from Boston University School of Law with a Juris Doctor. In a year long clerkship for an appellate judge Helene honed her writing skills by drafting weekly appellate memoranda. She practiced law until she practically perfected it and after taking a brief twenty year hiatus to raise her three children she began writing a personal blog Her essays have been published in: Scary Mommy, Kveller, The Forward, and Grown and Flown where she is Managing Editor. You can visit Helene's website here

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