Layers of Grief

Time for something a little bit different.

We’ve been Staying Home, Staying Safe for a while now, some longer than others. People outside of the medical world have been starting to wonder what kind of effects this may have on those who have pre-existing mental health issues. People inside the medical world have been seeing the issues almost from the start. Especially in the long-term care setting where I currently work, the residents are feeling the pains of loneliness, isolation, and depression. My friends and family are starting to experience difficulty getting to sleep and staying asleep and many are feeling the weight of anxiety. There is profound discussion regarding what life will be like when this is over. Will we ever return to normal? Do we WANT to return to normal? Do we need to create a new normal?

These, my friends and colleagues, are the effects of grief. Many mental health experts have been talking about this for months, but it has become clear to me that the people outside the medical world are experiencing these things and don’t understand what is happening to themselves. If that’s true, which I believe it is because I’m experiencing it in the people I know, then the providers in the medical world have been feeling it even longer and harder. Our roles have been drastically changing, our workload is heavy, and our souls shoulder the burden. So let’s put this out there and give it a name.

Brockway, K. (2020). Layers of Grief.
(Original Image)

I’m going to go all Shrek and Donkey on you. Grief comes in layers and you have to peel them back one at a time. You may have more layers than my onion pictured here, and you may have fewer layers. You may experience each of the layers differently from each other. The Stages of Loss: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance, don’t necessarily happen in the same order and they are not always a linear path.

Unfortunately, we can’t “Marie Kondo” grief.

You, your family members, your friends, and your patients are likely experiencing grief. This grief is interrupting your sleep, your joy, and pretty much every part of your life. We are all feeling it, and the pressure of the outside layers are crushing down on the core. Don’t feel guilty for grieving the loss of your way of life.

You must allow yourself to grieve in order to move on. And we have to encourage our patients to do the same. Normalize their grief by sharing that you are feeling it, too. The life we once knew is gone. We know we cannot go back. We have seen far too much. It’s not just our lives that have changed, WE have changed.

And beyond grief, some of you may feel betrayed. You have been working so hard to keep yourself safe, your families safe, and your patients alive. You have been holding phones and iPads for loved ones to say goodbye. And you have been seeing all the talk about re-opening our economy, letting everyone commune to create herd immunity, and so many other posts.

“It’s amazing to me that you can see all these nurses and frontline workers saying, ‘I won’t work without PPE, my job isn’t worth my life.’ Yet so many nonessential workers think their jobs are worth hundreds of lives.”

You feel betrayed by family members, friends, employers, governing bodies, and communities as a whole. You can’t believe there are still people who don’t believe this is real. And then you circle back around and you grieve for those people. You grieve for the people’s lives they are risking, including their families, when you maybe haven’t seen your family in weeks.

On the other side, you may just feel ready for everything to open back up and restart your life and the lives of everyone else around us. You may be aching to get in some serious shopping or to get your kids to the playground. You may just really be missing your people. You may be watching your friends and family members suffer with business closures and financial hardships. But, because opening back up isn’t really happening, you are grieving that too, for yourself and for you family and friends.

But… How? How can we escape this?

Escape is not the goal. What we can do is create a new, better life. One that has the hope of fixing all the mistakes we made in the last one. Everyone is coming out of this changed and with a completely new outlook on what life can be. This is a critical time. YOU have the ability to reframe absolutely everything. Experience your grief, but don’t frame your life in it. Frame your life in hope. This is your chance.

The best quote I’ve heard so far about when this will all end was from Dr. Fauci, “The virus is the clock.” So we can’t escape it, at least not on our own terms. We have to learn to live within it. We have to reframe what we have. You get the chance today to choose your frame. I hope you choose something like peace, or happiness, or service.

Don’t focus on what you can do, focus on HOW you can do it.

I’m choosing service. That’s what this whole blog is about. How can I help as many rehab providers as possible deal with this, be ready for this, and be helpful to their patients? Well, I have a skillset that most PTs haven’t used in a while, so I can help them refresh their skills so they can be ready to provide the help needed by patients who have COVID-19. I can reach as many people as possible using a blog and sharing it everywhere I can.

If you focus on what you can do, you’re going to hit a lot of roadblocks. There are many barriers to break if you just try to figure out what you can do. It is also very easy to get overwhelmed focusing in on all the things you CAN’T do. Skip the what, because, let’s be honest, you already know what you need help with. You think about it all the time (I just need one more cup of coffee…). Instead think about HOW you can do something. How you can support a friend or coworker or how you can help yourself and your colleagues get through another shift (donuts?).

When you focus on the how, you get to push right past all that barriers and roadblocks and just DO something. And being able to do something feels good. That’s where you start your reframing process.

Tell me in the comments what frame you are choosing!

More reads…

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WHILE WE WAIT FOR THE NECT CHAPTER OF DIABETES MANAGEMENT, LET’S KEEP TALKING ABOUT INCONTINENCE Chronic management of urinary incontinence can lead to many issues like infection and hospitalization if it doesn’t account for fluid balance! Let’s talk I’s and O’s! #physicaltherapy #incontinence #chronicdisease


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Berinato, S. (2020). The discomfort you’re feeling is grief. Harvard Business Journal. Retrieved from

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