That feeling I hadn’t quite put my finger on: Loss

I’ve been struggling to identify a feeling while reflecting on all the change during the COVID-19 pandemic.  I know I’ve had feelings of uncertainty about safety and health and disappointment in national leadership.

I have deep seated feelings of sadness for 3.3 million+ lost jobs. I profoundly care for humanity who are experiencing all kinds of issues. I am sad about the tens of thousands of people who have died with COVID-19. And I harbor genuine concern for over the nearly a million fellow human beings who have or had this merciless, global virus. 

Of course, I also feel gratitude for the countless healthcare professionals, first responders and other essential workers who tirelessly work for our welfare and health.

But I believe the feeling, the one I’ve been attempting to identify is loss.

As I socially and distantly interface with those in my life’s eco-system, and as I listen, read and watch this global crisis unfold, I get the sense that what we all struggle with is loss.

A loss of routine
A loss of normalcy
A loss of income
A loss of touch
A loss of patience
A loss of relatedness
A loss of life

So taken together, what does it mean?  Well, when we experience loss, it means we grieve!  It’s not just uncertainty.  It isn’t only anxiety.  It’s more than disruption.  It may be bigger than fear.  I think it is grief.  And as would be expected and should be honored, we all grieve in our own way.  

From a self-leadership perspective, ours is to own our feelings first.  Come in touch with those feelings, breathe into those feelings, and yes, please express those feelings with significant others.  

This is particularly true for us in our LGBTQ community. Many of us have some devastating, unsupportive history with isolation due to HIV, unaccepting families or pre-coming-out friends, and we bring whatever that individual baggage is to this experience as well.

I also believe that community members and leaders need to have compassion for and empathy with everyone in our circle of influence who is experiencing loss as well as the grief that comes with their unique losses.  That grief shows up in all kinds of forms, and typically not the best of forms. 

As one who cares acutely for our own professional success and well-being, may I suggest that you “flex” with those who are not themselves or who are not responding in ways that you are accustomed.  May I recommend that you be patient with missed deadlines, or withdrawn behaviors?  May I implore you to “check-in” more frequently, and to advise additional help if a colleague, friend, or significant other seems depressed or unfocused?  

And, may I exhort you to accompany your people — your own tribe — in whatever it is they are feeling.  Simply staying present to another — even in your own loss of words — goes a long way to demonstrate both care and selfless leadership.  In addition, it is “OK” if your own demeanor can’t really hang with or develop another in their grief.  Please, just ask someone else to do the heavy lifting with and for you; and, all because you do care.

Finally, in loss — as well as grief — there is healing; and, there is hope.  Time is an ally; but more importantly YOU are.  Let’s make a choice to respect the emotional places of the people we hang with and love—and all the while we proactively watch out for and care for them.  This is not only self-leadership, but it is a reflection of humanity at its very best.         

Bill Dickinson, D. Min. is a senior leadership advisor and proud gay man living in Atlanta. Find him on LinkedIn.

This column originally appeared in Q magazine. Flip through the full issue online here:

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