Wildfires and Grief:
Naming our feelings and finding ways to cope
I am having a hard time writing today. In my office there is a huge window that allows natural light to flood into my cozy space. Today, as with the past several days, the filtered natural light that typically makes me feel optimistic and calm is smudged out with hues of burnt orange and raspberry red. The smells of smoke and char waft in through air filters and small cracks under doors. Breathing outside is difficult and my lungs feel heavy, my eyes sting. It is a claustrophobic and disorienting feeling to be “..under a sea of smoke” as the news said this morning.
We are in the midst of a devastating fire season here in California. We have several big fires every year but this year, like the past few years, is now the worst fire season in California history. And we still have the driest two months of the year ahead of us.
Yesterday when I read that the #forkfire had started and quickly exploded here in El Dorado County, I began to cry. Again. I had been crying on and off for the past week. I wasn’t crying just because Dantes Inferno had finally made its way to my county, I was crying for the over 2 million acres that have burned in my beloved state in just over two weeks.
I was crying for homes lost and the constant fear of evacuation. I was crying for burnt dreams and the agony of trying to rebuild. I was crying for the deaths. So many deaths. Humans, animals, soil, and trees. I was crying because wildfires cause a great deal of suffering.
As I was crying I was thinking, “What is wrong with me? Why have I been crying so much lately?” I wondered why I hadn’t been sleeping, why I was struggling to make even the most basic decisions (what to cook for dinner, what flavor tea do I want to drink), why are my thoughts so scattered, I just can’t seem to concentrate on anything or finish it to completion, and come to think of it – I have been snapping at my husband a lot lately….
Then I recognized this familiar and shambled emotional state, this is grief.
At the Center for Loss & Life Transition, a comprehensive (though not exhaustive) list of feelings associated with grief is provided to help us ‘name’ what we are feeling after loss. Much of what I listed above is expanded upon by Dr. Alan Wolfelt.
We all experience grief many, many times throughout our lives.
Grief does not just happen when someone we love dies, it happens when pets die too. And when relationships end. And when there is great suffering. It happens many, many times during our lives, and in many ways. We must learn how to recognize it and how to move forward with it, as it is a feeling that will come back to revisit us throughout our lives.
From August 15th- 19th over 20,000 lighting strikes relentlessly reigned down on California. Let that sink in, over 20,000 lightning strikes in just 4 days. This created the majority of the fires, many that grew so large they began merging and creating much larger and more uncontrollable ‘complex’ fires.
Imagine the fear and the depression of such devastation. On its own it is enough to lead to some serious grief, but this is 2020, and these wildfires are set against the backdrop of a worldwide pandemic. There have already been hundreds, if not thousands of articles of research linking grief to the COVID pandemic. Not to mention the absolute political and social unrest that has turned our communities upside down over the past several weeks. We have absolutely been in a perpetual state of grieving for many, many months.
Once I sat with myself and actually figured out why I was so out of sorts I instantly became just a little calmer. No, the feelings did not all go away, but now I knew how to proceed. I remembered how I have moved forward with grief in the past.
It is important to note that we all sit with grief differently. Each of us must experiment with different ways to slow dance with grief until we find the right combination of coping mechanisms. Also keep in mind that the ways we cope may ebb and flow. What has worked before may not work again. As we transition so do our emotions, have grace with yourself.
For me, this time when I named my grief I realized I had not been meditating. I was having such chaotic feelings I had let go of the practice that centers me. I immediately went back to my routine of morning meditation.
Additionally, I started communicating. Once I realized why I was so frazzled I felt I could talk about it. I called my sister and told her, ‘Gosh, I have been crying a lot and feeling all kinds of ways and I just figured out why’. I apologized to my husband for being so snippity. I shared with him what I had been feeling and thanked him for being patient with me.
And finally, once I recognized and named my feelings, ‘Grief’, I knew that it would not pass over night. It will come and go. It will show up unannounced and unexpected and it will make me cry. It will pop up for a few moments of indecisiveness. It will make me feel quiet, reflective, angry and out of sorts…but it will not stay. I wish I knew when it will move on. It may not be until the fires are out, which probably won’t be until Fall. It may not be until the pandemic subsides. For however long this grief rides next to me I know it will be like an attention seeking side-kick that demands the spotlight some of the time. Fine. But you do not get to run my show. You can visit; but Joy, and Happiness, and Gratitude, and Guiltless Pleasure, and Laughter…they are part of the Circus too, and they are the stars of the show.
Have you been experiencing feelings of grief lately? Feel free to talk about it in the comments below.
Until next time, many hugs and lotsa love,