'Every day I find something new to grieve about': How grief manifests itself in unique ways

Outwardly, the emotion of grief can manifest as social withdrawal, disengagement, and decreased productivity

By Ghenwa Yehia

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Published: Thu 18 Jan 2024, 8:23 PM

“It’s been over 100 days. Sometimes, I just want to scream. I’m so full of anger and outrage. Other days, I’m either numb – I can’t believe this is still happening while the world watches – or all I can do is cry.

“The grief weighs on me. How do you function during a genocide?”

This is a question Lana*, a 29-year-old Palestinian-Lebanese resident of Dubai, asks herself daily as the ongoing ethnic cleansing and forced displacement of Palestinians in Gaza continues.

The lifelong UAE resident has found her ability to function at work when she’s in a constant stage of grief challenging.

“It’s not like someone has died, and I am going through the stages of grief for that one person,” she explained. “Every day I find something new to grieve about. I grieve for people who have been murdered and for those who will die from hunger, thirst, and the cold. I grieve the children – for those who haven’t been killed, what kind of childhood is this? I grieve for the land – the buildings, the trees, the soil – that will bear the mark of illegal occupation forever.”

Working in a client-facing role at a high-end luxury retailer has proved exceptionally tough. Lana has had to seek support through grief and trauma therapy. “I know I’m not the only one, but I struggle to compartmentalise my grief,” she said. “There hasn’t been a formal outlet at work to talk about this.”

Grief manifests itself in unique and personal ways. Internally, feelings of anxiousness about tasks that were previously easy, feeling disconnected from others and the world, losing concentration or appetite, and/or physical/spiritual feelings of heaviness may prevail. Outwardly, this can manifest as social withdrawal, disengagement, and decreased productivity.

During times of intense prolonged or collective grief, where check-ins may become infrequent or stop altogether, those with unprocessed grief may experience heightened emotional intensity and a diminished tolerance to stress, leading to hopelessness and despair.

Typically, with individual loss, considerations for grief may be made by employers. However, in the current situation, employers may not even know their staff are grieving. It takes awareness, thoughtful conversations, and meaningful questions to help identify who is grieving and how they can support.

For Dr Masa Alkurdi, a clinical psychologist at The Psychiatry and Therapy Centre, grief manifested itself subtly. “As a clinician, you're expected to just keep it together, to just know how to deal with grief,” she said. “We have techniques and we’re expected to know how to regulate. But we're still human.

“I identify as Syrian by blood and Palestinian by soul. I went from feeling shocked, to helpless, to angry, to feeling sad, then angry again, and so on. It was a range of emotions centred around grief. It became too much.”

Connecting with other clinicians has led to the creation of the ‘Resilience Roundtable’ with Dr Sarah A. Bougary from Monarch Health Centers in Dubai. The monthly meetings are spaces for clinicians to come together to talk about their grief and to address how to work with clients who are similarly dealing with the same grief and trauma.

“Being able to deal with my own grief has enabled me to better help my clients cope with their grief. I have clients who are Palestinian, Irish, Iraqi, Syrian, Lebanese – so many cultures come from a background of trauma. We are all trying to sort through that untreated grief that has been triggered while simply trying to exist and function.”

Rebecca Carter, somatic and trauma informed counsellor at The Lighthouse Arabia, explains how workplace culture can directly impact the grieving process.

“A workplace culture that does not recognise the deeply emotional, physical, and spiritual impact of grief will create a workforce of employees with unprocessed grief and suppressed emotions, who have potentially higher levels of anxiety, stress or burnout; and who may experience performance challenges,” she said.

“If you create a culture which expects employees to not be impacted by life and grief, then you will have a workforce who will not feel the psychological safety to share their authentic and true experience. They will be silently struggling with their mental health, life events, and experiences.”

For both Lana and Dr Alkurdi, while they navigate their grief in different ways, the underlying sentiment of hope remains. “I think the world has finally woken up and we’re grieving this horror together while collectively calling for action,” said Dr Alkurdi. “Humans are social beings, and I think Palestine is uniting us and teaching us to give each other grace and compassion as we fight for its freedom.”

For Lana, having someone to listen has been empowering and validating. “Through therapy, I’ve learned to reach out to ask for help to deal with my grief. I’m now trying to be that person inside and outside of work who checks in on people and holds a space for others. It helped so much in processing my grief and get on day-to-day. It gives me the motivation to channel my grief to call for action and change.”

wknd@khaleejtimes.com

*The subject’s name has been changed to protect privacy.


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