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Hero image: Navigating the new normal

Now that I’m vaccinated against COVID-19 and can go maskless in many places, I find myself filled with uncertainty. I have come to equate mask wearing and social distancing with safety. Will I now feel more free, or more exposed, anxious, and unsafe? What will the “new normal” look like?

Grief counselor J. William Worden’s Tasks of Mourning model has helped me understand the phases of grief experienced during the pandemic. We have largely worked through his first three tasks of grief. Generally speaking, we have accepted the reality of the pandemic (the first task) and processed the pain of the losses (the second task). The third task of grief is adjusting to life in light of our losses, and we have made many adjustments since March 2020, including lockdowns, face masks, social distancing, and life on Zoom. 

We are now on the threshold of the fourth task of grief: embarking on a new life by creating a balance between remembering our losses and living fully and meaningfully. I want to remember and keep in my heart all who have lost their lives to COVID-19 and their loved ones, as well as all who have lost their livelihoods and homes during this time, and not take for granted my fortunate life. 

Still, anxiety and uncertainty about the new normal abound. For example, I love being able to walk in the forest without my mask, but feel confused when I pass others who are still wearing theirs. I am uncertain about mask etiquette in restaurants: Should I leave my mask on while ordering out of respect for the mask-wearing servers? Is it really safe to go maskless with the emergence of new variants of COVID?

I will miss some things about my life during the lockdown. Being an introvert, I’ve been comfortable staying home without feeling guilty about it, and have enjoyed having more time to read and write. Practicing with my Nalandabodhi Buddhist community throughout the world on Zoom has been wonderful, and I’ve developed many new connections and friendships with people I might not have otherwise met.

Exercise

Here are some questions to contemplate to help you move forward and navigate the new normal:

  • What have I learned about myself during this time of pandemic loss?
  • What do I want to keep from this grief process, and what do I want to discard?
  • Have my values or spiritual beliefs changed during this time, and if so, how?
  • What do I appreciate about how I have navigated the pandemic?
  • What did I take for granted before the pandemic that I no longer want to take for granted?

May your journey be fruitful, and may you flourish as you shed your masks.

© 2021. Beth S. Patterson. All rights reserved.

Beth Patterson
Beth Patterson

Beth Patterson is a psychotherapist specializing in grief, loss and life transitions. In her work, Beth relies on Buddhist psychology, mindfulness based cognitive therapy and body-centered therapies. Her articles and ebook are available at www.bethspatterson.com. Beth is a longtime Buddhist practitioner and a student of Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche.

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