Kendra Outler, MD, MPH
Founder, Uzima Health & Wellness
Me, my grief & I
Dear Uzima Family, this feature comes as I walked and walked one day. Walking brings about a time of reflection and thoughts. I found myself thinking about Jas Waters, the young black writer from THIS IS US, Chief Don Boyn, a decorated officer in Chicago, and Dr. Timothy Cunningham. They were all brilliant and they all suffered from depression. All three committed suicide…when the rainbow was NOT enough.
As of today, there are roughly 6 million cases of COVID-19 and 182 thousand deaths in the United States. Worldwide there are 24.8 million cases and 838k deaths. In July, there were 105 murders in Chicago making it the city’s most violent month in 28 years. On August 28th, 2020 Black Panther star, Howard Alum, and outstanding citizen Chadwick Boseman died of colon cancer at 43 years young. These all are preventable deaths per our medical experts, or are they? In 2020, we do not have a cure for COVID-19 nor can we catch colon cancer early enough to save many young people faced with the diagnosis and unfortunately inner-city violence in major cities rages on. As the world turns and spins today there is one word that is uniting us all; that word is grief.
I looked up the meaning of the word grief. The definition provided by Psychology Today is …the acute pain that accompanies loss. The thought that grief is pain explains the tears and the utter collapse of the person experiencing it. During this COVID-19 period, I was having a talk with myself about the loss of normalcy due to the pandemic and how I needed to take stock of my emotional burnout, I got a call, like so many others during this time, that there was a death in my family. I hollered in my grief; I was in pain. As I reflect on the number of deaths due to COVID-19, homicides, preventable deaths, and those who are suffering from the loss of normalcy, I realize we are all in pain. We grieve for yesterday and speak of when. Some of us will emerge from the pandemic with unrecoverable losses.
Grief is also an experience. There are five stages of grief 1) Denial 2) Anger 3) Bargaining 4) Depression and 5) Acceptance. When one grieves, a person may go through this process without too much disruption in their normal routine in thinking and actions. However, other individuals may become stuck in the earlier stages of guilt, pain, anger and depression. While there is no right or wrong way to grieve there needs to be recognition of when the grief is the driving emotion of the person. Often times the grief will become consuming leading to irrational or counter-productive thoughts and behaviors. We have all heard or know someone who has not been the same since the loss of a child, parent, job or spouse.
After the loss of my grandmother, I found myself coming home and going straight to bed. I found the strength to join a running group—I had to move or that bed was going to swallow me. Grief was holding me down. I talked with a friend who lost a brother and she said it took months before it felt like she was not shifting through fog. Her children needed her. She had to “snap” out of it. I asked an elderly family friend how she grieved for her daughter with a straight face—such strength. She told me “I know she is with Jesus and I will see her again.” Unshakeable, undeniable faith.
The question becomes is all grief viewed equally. Can one nation’s pain be less than another? Can one ethnic group’s experience be less painful, and can one person’s cry not be heard? I believe that all of these questions can be answered with a resounding…YES! We are in the throes of what social scientists call comparative suffering. Right now, in America, the oppressed and the disenfranchised are being joined in their fight to have their grief and pain recognized. Black LIVES DO MATTER. The lives of Tamir Rice, George Floyd, Sandra Bland, Breonna Taylor, Atatiana Jefferson, Oscar Grant and Mr. Blake matter today during the season of the pandemic and tomorrow. There are so many others now dying and who will continue to die. Hence, the grief we see is real and the pain is in the protest.
What COVID- 19 has done is highlight inequality in every aspect of our lives; who would think that one’s grief could be spliced and weighted as less important to another? The lack of empathy and understanding results in a lack of healing and continued mental stress for individuals and the nation. Individuals who are suffering now from discrimination because they are members of a minority class, those who are economically disadvantaged and those now facing homelessness due to COVID-19 or the recent hurricane are particularly vulnerable for mental decompensation. That person who is experiencing the instability of our nation who has just lost a parent, child or other loved one can also experience atypical grief. This is grief that is prolonged and associated with psychiatric symptoms. There is no good medication for this type of grief; it has to be worked out and worked through.
There are moments in my life that I have had to pause and reflect. Moments that have made me say “good -grief” as if grief could ever be good. In these moments when my jaws were tight that I remember these lasting words of wisdom from my father-mentor, Dr. Edward Lord. He said, “Kendra, what is ain’t and what ain’t is” and then dismissed me and all that I was axed about. We are living this moment and asking is this real and from whose thought is the reality. We are searching for truth and reconciliation. Even after the COVID-19 pandemic ends, we will be looking as individuals and looking as a nation for that which will allow us to move through the stages of grief and finally get to acceptance.
Bishop Tuto: My humanity is bound up in yours, for we can only be human together.