NABG Newsletter Issue 16: We are grieving and that is okay

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During these uncertain times, it seems that the only constants are grief, anxiety, and loss. This time is especially hard on young people as their entire lives have turned upside down with assuming different roles in the home, loss of connection, and online education. The Healing, Wellbeing, and Reproductive Justice tenent of A National Agenda for Black Girls states: “Black girls deserve to live self-determined lives, which includes access to affordable mental health and physical health care.”

As the pandemic continues with no clear end in sight, mental health and grief amongst young people must be addressed. This time is especially unpredictable, making it hard to honor loss as there is no clear end to the pandemic. However, we still must create spaces for young people, especially Black girls, to experience their feelings and be supported. Black girls are at a higher risk for having adverse experiences and not receiving the care they need — that stops now.

In conversations with our steering committee members and other young people about their feelings and their coping mechanisms, we have recognized a need for a guide for adult allies. We’ve crafted this newsletter to assist service providers in recognizing grief and supporting young people during this time.

Noticing Types of Grief

Grief is a natural response to losing something or someone important to you. Ambiguous loss is an unclear and uncertain loss of something or someone with no clear timeline of when the loss will subside. Additionally, others in the community may not recognize the ambiguous loss as significant.

Grief is a natural response to losing something or someone important to you. Young people during this time are experiencing losses such as:

  • Feelings of safety
  • The ability to work
  • Their connections at school and in community spaces
  • Special plans, events, or milestones that have been canceled or put on pause, such as Graduations, Proms, and Birthdays
  • Jobs and sources of income
  • Sports, organizations, and extracurricular activities
  • Physical expressions of love and gratitude
  • Shifts in their mental health
  • Changes in daily routines and responsibilities
  • Loss of loved ones and community members
  • Loss of certainty about their future
  • Loss of appetite, eating habits

Being separated from loved ones and support networks has a significant impact on mental health. It is crucial for young people to find mental and emotional wellness in their relationships through establishing healthy boundaries rather than completely isolating from people who care for them. During this time young people may not want to or know how to talk about how they feel, come on video or participate on zoom, and we, as youth service providers and trusted adults in their lives, must continue to reach out and ask how we can be there for them. Young people need support in navigating these stressful and jarring times, and knowing they have one constant — a caring ally — is a vital resource.

We’ve also heard from our young people that they’re feeling frustrated with the expectations around their capacity. Juggling family responsibilities, schoolwork and relationships was hard enough before the additional stress of a life-altering pandemic and a new world order. Black girls have confided in us that now friends may be judging one another for not showing up to support them in this moment, causing tensions in friendships and causing feelings of being canceled or unappreciated.

Young people’s social networks are necessary for their development and also an important emotional buoy during social isolation. As adult allies, we must encourage the understanding that relationships are non-transactional and that we are all doing our best at this time. Young people are used to social interaction and therefore these strains will impact their overall wellness, unless we are able to properly support them and encourage healthy behaviors.

The Manifestation of Grief

Although feelings of grief are normal, for the majority of us this is the first time we’ve experienced grief as a response to a global pandemic. Grief will manifest in various ways for different people, and it might look like:

  • Trouble focusing on normal tasks, like chores or school assignments
  • Sleeping much more or less than usual
  • Re-experiencing feelings of past grief
  • Avoiding thinking or talking about the pandemic
  • Feeling empty, numb, angry, irritable or guilty
  • Wondering if there is something that could or should have been done differently
  • Physical reactions such as trembling, nausea, exhaustion and weakness
  • Nightmares

A prominent form of grief emerging in this moment is anticipatory grief. Living through a global pandemic like COVID-19 incites a unique form of grief, because we are not only experiencing loss — or several losses — right now, but we are also attempting to mentally prepare for what’s to come. Young people might be on edge, envisioning the worst case scenario, or even withdrawing from the people they love most in order to self-protect. These can all be signs of “anticipatory grief”.

Self-Care Models

It is so important that adults are able to support young people during this time, but also that young people know how to support themselves. We have curated a list of such practices you can share with the young people in your life, and maybe even try out for yourself.

  • Practice Self-Care: This doesn’t have to be extravagant! Focus on the basics and make sure that you are eating, staying hydrated, and getting enough rest.
  • Give Yourself Time (and Grace): There is no set timeline for what healing from loss may look like. Give yourself time to flow through these feelings and allow your body to release in whatever ways it may need (it’s okay to ugly cry!).
  • Your Feelings (Yes, All of Them) Are Valid: Feelings after loss are complicated — you could feel a particular way in one moment and feel something completely different the next. Whether you are experiencing shock, numbness, rage, or sadness, be gentle with yourself. It’s okay to be going through the motions.
  • Remember Your Community: Who comes to mind when you’ve needed someone to vent to, cry on, or laugh with? Consider reaching out to this person (or people) — after communicating what you would want to talk about, ask whether they would be able to hold space for you in that moment. (i.e., “Hey, I’ve been really struggling with not being able to be close to my loved one, especially now. Would you mind if I talked some of my feelings out with you?”)
  • Beautify Your Safer Space: What feelings does your home space bring up for you? If you are still working to build a healthier relationship to your home, you can start by dedicating a small space (like a windowsill, mirror, or side table) to self-reflection and self-compassion. Each morning or evening, spend time in this space… breathe deeply and reflect on the things you are letting go of and the things you may want to let in.
  • When in Doubt, Continue to Reach Out: Still feeling overwhelmed? Need professional support? Try reaching out to a program coordinator or manager at your local youth organization to help you get connected to professional support. Local hotlines/ helplines like NYC Well and The Trevor Project can also provide emotional support over the phone or through text!
  • Try out these Journal Entries for Navigating Grief
  • What are some of the things I have had to let go of throughout these past few weeks?
  • What are some things I may anticipate letting go of in the near future?
  • What are some things, feelings, and people that I am inviting in or opening myself up to in this moment?
  • What are some moments and people that have lifted my spirits or brought me joy in these past few weeks?
  • What are the things that I am most looking forward to doing once we are able to reconnect with our loved ones?

Call to Action

Adults can and must play a supportive and validating role in young people’s lives at all times, but especially now. During this time it is important that adults continue to affirm young people and the things that they are going through. Here are some affirmations to remember and share with young people.

  1. I have the power to create my own calm.
  2. Asking for what I need is a part of my process. I am not a burden to those I have leaned on/ will lean on.
  3. I invite in the supports that feel most nourishing to my body, mind, and emotional well-being. I let go of the ones that feel exhausting, depleting, or draining.
  4. Healing is not linear, nor is it a race. I give myself grace throughout my process.

Supportive Tools

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Girls for Gender Equity (GGE) is an intergenerational organization committed to the physical, psychological, social, and economic development of girls and women