Counseling Through the Pandemic: Grief and Lament Became Hourly Companions

by Cindy Brosh MACP ’05

It was a heartbreaking morning two years ago today as I sat with clients, knowing my dear friend was two miles away at Legacy hospital. He had been living with inclusion-body myositis for fifteen years, and recently had been terrified of what would happen if he caught a cold with his limited lung capacity. And then it happened. He got sick in January; he couldn’t breathe, and his lungs and the muscles around them were no longer functioning enough to heal his bacterial infection. We sat by his side in the hospital for a week, taking shifts at night so he wouldn’t be alone. And then the final day arrived. I got the text to come; that he had been put on hospice and the end was near. I canceled my day. We gathered around his bed, each of us holding the shimmering threads of our deep love for this brilliant, wickedly funny, kind and loyal man. With tears streaming down my cheeks, I said goodbye. He told a joke; easing our pain at the height of his. His wife put on the soundtrack he wanted, and Bruce Cockburn started to sing “Last Night of the World.” And then there was no more time; he was given morphine by the hospice nurse and took his final breaths, looking into the eyes of each one of us as he slipped away.

A few short weeks later, the world shut down with the pandemic and I began my own journey through the vocational, social, spiritual and physical upheaval that marked the past two years. I would have said that I felt resilient when all of this began. I take self-care seriously, and in recent years have been buoyed by meditation, spiritual practice, intimate connection with nature, loving friendships, and caring for my body with attentive tenderness. But as I moved quickly to a virtual practice and the weeks went by; as racial and social upheaval brought a new wave of grief and education and action, and as I began to feel the raw ache of isolation, I was deeply humbled. Nothing; no amount of discipline in these practices, could meet the challenge before me.

Grief and lament became hourly companions. I work as a grief and trauma therapist, and my clients; many of them health care workers, were experiencing levels of trauma and loss and fear that I had never seen before. Past clients, overwhelmed by the pandemic, came back into therapy even as my existing clients were experiencing an increase in symptoms. The acuity in my case load skyrocketed. Working virtually took a toll on my nervous system and work felt physically taxing in a way it never had before.

Looking back, I know I could not have made it without the sturdy tether of my husband and children, my beautiful spiritual community, the vocational support of my consultation group, and the deep connection with my clients. Slowly, I made changes that allowed me to do less sessions each week. I walked outside every day. I cried every day as the losses accumulated. I spent time every day tending the vegetable garden; joyfully picking produce and bringing it in for dinner. I talked to my friend and planted his favorite fern in his memory.

I don’t know yet whether I have truly been resilient. It all feels too fresh to know, and it’s not over. I don’t know what will come. The illusion that we are safe with one another has been shattered in so many painful ways. But as I sit at my desk sipping my tea I can smile at the beauty I see in the faces I love; those whom I have nurtured and those who have nurtured and supported me through losses I couldn’t have imagined, and I’m grateful.