Ask Natalie by Natalie Bencivenga

Ask Natalie: Lost grandfather to Covid-19 and feeling bitter about it? Staying with girlfriend because she threatened to harm herself?

DEAR NATALIE: I recently lost my 94-year-old grandfather to Covid-19 and I am really bitter about it. He was in good health and did not live in a nursing home. I say this because I am so sick of people acting like just because they were old that they were going to die anyway. I am hurt and horrified at how we treat the elderly in this country. Some of my family is also upsetting me about this because they are anti-maskers and do not want to admit that wearing a mask saves lives. Even after this. I have all of these feelings and I don’t know how to process them. I’m also seeing more and more of my friends losing family to Covid-19. It’s really starting to hit home for a lot of people. How can we handle not only our own grief but then be there for friends who are also suffering? —COVID-19 HITTING HOME

DEAR COVID-19 HITTING HOME: I have said it before and i’ll say it again: This whole country has been experiencing collective grief. And when we don’t acknowledge grief, it can take other forms, like anger or despair. The fact that your family is still in denial about the importance of wearing masks may seem mind boggling, but this denial is how they are protecting themselves because they refuse to acknowledge reality. They haven’t tapped into their grief. Now, with it hitting so close to home, they are even more defensive about their choices than before. All that you can do is to continue to protect yourself and your family as best you can by practicing social distancing, wearing a mask whenever you are in public or around people outside of your household, and washing your hands. In terms of your own experience with grieving the loss of your grandfather while also simultaneously feeling anger and bitterness towards the situation at large, just lean into it. You can hold two feelings at once. You can both honor him and feel frustration around the circumstances of his death. My one mentor used to say to me: “If you want to heal it, you have to feel it.” So allow yourself grace and space in this situation. Allow yourself room to grieve, room to feel all of it. You owe yourself that. There is no circumventing the intensity of all of this. None of this is normal. My fear is that everything related to Covid-19 will become normalized. We should never normalize this. We should never accept this as “just the way it is.” These deaths were preventable and your anger and bitterness are understandable. But my hope for you is that you find someone to talk to, like a therapist, where you can work through these feelings and not have to carry them around. The healing can start from there. Once you are in a better place, you can be present for your friends experiencing their own grief and loss, too. 

DEAR NATALIE: My girlfriend and I live together and things haven’t been great between us. I broke things off before Covid-19 but she threatened to harm herself. We got back together and now live with each other. I lost a parent recently and have experienced other personal setbacks. I find myself using them as reasons as to why we can’t go to the next level. She would like to marry, but I am reluctant to do that because of her past. I am not even sure that I love her, but I feel obligated to take care of her right now. I am not sure what to do, but I am truly unhappy and don’t want to live like this forever. —PROLONGED MISERY

DEAR PROLONGED MISERY: You have to honor what you want and need from a life partner. The longer you ignore your feelings, the more resentment, hostility and frustration will build up around this. If you bottle all of this, you may just explode at some point and say things that you’ll regret. You have to be honest with yourself and with her. I’m not saying to drop her immediately, but I think both of you should go to counseling together and discuss what has happened. It clearly weighs on you and is preventing you from moving forward in your life. Being duty bound may seem noble, but really it means you are constantly putting someone’s needs ahead of your own and that isn’t sustainable. Own your feelings. Own where you are. Let the chips fall where they may. You both deserve to find partners that bring out the best in you. It’s not always enough to just survive; you are allowed to thrive.

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