Grieving Missed Pandemic Milestones

Like many people, I was really excited to hit the next decade of my life and had big plans for how my new-decade birthday might go. I figured 2020 would be a big year for me personally, and I was looking forward to the milestone birthday being one of many important transitions. I don’t think I need to tell you that the big party didn’t happen. The big vacation I planned didn’t happen.

But it didn’t bother me at the time. Seniors missed graduations and class trips, weddings were postponed or streamed on video. Plenty of other people missed birthdays and holidays and vacations. It felt for a while like we were all in this together, all sacrificing the things we were really looking forward to.

It still didn’t bother me in 2021 because things still felt up in the air. Sometimes events could happen, other times they’d be shut down or postponed yet again. Some people were having parties, but other people were still keeping things small out of caution.

This year has been different. One of my best friends is about two years younger than me and she’s now hitting the decade milestone that I missed in 2020. And she gets to have the party and go on the special vacation. I’m jealous in ways I didn’t expect.

I’ve heard similar from people who had to skip their graduations or have them virtually. They can go and walk this year to make up for it, but they’ve moved on in their lives and it feels weird to go and walk in someone else’s graduation just because you missed yours. But the feelings of sadness and jealousy are still there.

So how do we deal with these feelings? How do I watch my friend have an amazing party and then follow it up with a fun long weekend away? How can I be genuinely happy for her while missing the fact that I wanted those things for my milestone birthday too?

And just like it feels wrong to walk in someone else’s graduation to make up for the loss of mine, it also doesn’t feel right to have that party two years later simply to make up for lost time. All that’s left is for me to bring these thoughts and emotions up with acceptance. I missed my birthday party and the vacation. I didn’t feel sad at the time, but I’m sad now and that’s okay. I’ll have another birthday this year, and that can be good enough. I can plan a new vacation this year, and that can be okay. I’ll never get back all the time in 2020 that I lost to the pandemic and all the restrictions, but I need to accept that as a fact in order to move on.

Acceptance doesn’t mean I ignore my sadness or my jealous thoughts. My sadness is real and an important part of me. I can accept what happened and accept my sadness. The jealousy is different. I can tell from sitting with it that it comes from a place of feeling like things were unfair and I deserved better. Those emotions are valid, but they’re ultimately unhelpful. Focusing on the sense of unfairness doesn’t help me feel better, it keeps me in a cycle of feeling angry and jealous and focused on what I’m missing.

Does this make sense? My sadness is helpful because it allows me to acknowledge what I lost. My jealousy is unhelpful because it keeps me focused on myself as a victim of circumstance. Moving through this grief, it’s not helpful to allow myself to dwell on the jealousy, but I do need to hold and sit with my sadness so I can feel it fully and journey through it.

Grieving missed milestones and memories from the pandemic looks like sitting with your thoughts and feelings with a posture of acceptance. From there, you can decide which thoughts and feelings are helpful or unhelpful and decide how you want to proceed with intention, acceptance, and self-compassion.

Did you miss a milestone or major event during the pandemic? How did you handle it? Does the method I used sound like it might make sense for you or did you use a completely different way?

The Equalizing Power of Grief

Grief therapy is fundamentally different from other kinds of therapy for a few reasons, a primary reason being that both the therapist and the client have had their own experiences with grief and loss. In other therapies, the client may have a problem that the therapist has never experienced, so the therapist is operating purely clinically with no personal interjection.

This different way of doing therapy can feel odd to those who are more comfortable in a therapeutic experience that is more one-sided and hierarchical with the therapist being the expert on treatment and the client bringing the issue to be treated. With grief, we are all in the same boat. Not that your therapist will give great detail about their own story- therapy should always center on you as the client- but there is a different sense of community, a feeling like right now it is you going through this grief, but we have both been there and we will both be there again at many points in our lives.

And so, grief therapy is a process grounded in a horizontal relationship of equality rather than a vertical relationship of hierarchy and expertise. We are truly traveling together on the journey of grief. This is a collaborative process of digging into the meaning and purpose of life in the face of our mortality and limits.