How to not divorce your colleagues during a pandemic

David Kessler is the author of the bestselling book Finding Meaning: The Sixth Stage of Grief. Brené Brown interviewed David in Season 1 of her podcast Unlocking Us. In the episode, David offered some commentary on the high divorce rate among couples who lose children. David has observed that it’s not the loss that causes the divorce. People who have experienced the same loss will grieve differently, and at the end of their ropes, may judge each other’s grief. If one spouse isn’t grieving outwardly, it might be tempting for the other to think/say something like, “you must not have loved her as much as I did.” Whew.

The impact of the COVID pandemic on education in the United States has resulted in both tangible and intangible losses. Many of us may not have realized, in the midst of scrambling just to make things work, that we are also grieving.

Things I love about teaching have been lost. My children and spouse have experienced their own losses. My students have lost field experiences in local schools that we all know are central to their preparation as future teachers. There are tangible direct losses of life and health many have experienced as a result of COVID.

As I’ve thought about David Kessler’s commentary, I wonder what might be at stake if educators, in the midst of communal grief, begin to judge how their colleagues or students are getting by. When colleagues are slow or reticent to use online learning platforms, when students seem marginally connected, or when parents send the 52nd email asking a question that could have been answered by careful reading of what was already provided, it’s easy to feel frustrated. We are all working so hard.

It seems to me that the relationships among teachers, students, and parents are already dangerously tenuous. I’m embarrassed how easy it is, when I’m at the end of my rope, to add to this by interpreting and then unfairly judging others’ actions. I tell myself these folks just don’t work as hard or care as much as I do, because if they did, they could ___(do the thing I want them to do that they are not doing)____. I know better, yet it’s easy to think unhelpful thoughts when you’re completely exhausted. I need to recommit to check my thinking about people who are navigating a world full of hard things differently than me. Otherwise, my lack of compassion toward colleagues, students, and parents could result in important relationships left in disrepair when the pandemic is over. None of us need more to grieve; choosing compassion with one another might be the way through with our important relationships in tact when this is all over.