PLAN of MARI A Message of Support

A Message of Support

Date posted: June 18, 2020

My name is Kathy Vitello, and I am the Director of Operations here at PLAN of MA & RI. For those of you who are unfamiliar with us, PLAN is a non-profit organization that serves as trustee for a Special Needs Trust. As part of the trust services, each beneficiary is assigned to a Service Coordinator, who is a licensed Social Worker. The Service Coordinator works with the beneficiary and their designated support person through the life of the trust.

In these tough times, we must come together as a PLAN community to discuss the changes and challenges we have all faced during this pandemic. The Austrian neurologist, psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor, Victor Frankl, said:

“An abnormal reaction to an abnormal situation is normal behavior.”

In the past several months we have experienced significant changes in our lives. I think it is fair to say we all make assumptions about our world. We tend to see the world as relatively safe, predictable and benevolent. COVID-19 did not exist six months ago. As a result, in the outbreak of this pandemic, we have experienced a sense of trauma. We may now feel there are many dangers out there; the world feels unsafe. We have experienced losses, some of us have lost family and friends, some not being able to say goodbye. Our normal rituals have been impacted. Many of us have not been able to have services or funerals, which has prevented us the opportunity to mourn with others.

Some of us have experienced non-death losses; such as loss of employment, difficulty obtaining necessary goods and services like food, cleaning products, access to medical care and other professionals. We have experienced a loss of our daily routines, freedom of movement and social gatherings. We are unable to do the things we normally do or the things we enjoy doing. We can’t visit with family or friends. There is no hugging or kissing when we do have the opportunity to see loved ones. Rules, regulations and recommendations now dictate that we wear masks in public, don’t touch our faces, and practice physical distancing.

For some of us, we can feel anger at not being able to do the things we want, some of us may feel sad and anxious as well as isolated from those we care about, and those we support and those who support us. This can be described as Disenfranchised Grief. Grief counselor, Dr. Alan Wolfelt, wrote a book entitled The Wilderness of Grief  in which he compares grief to being in unfamiliar, and at times, brutal surroundings. He explains, in order to find your way out, you must become familiar with the terrain, even if you are feeling tired and cold.

In a sense, we all need to learn new survival skills. The analogy we will use is the four points of a compass:

North / Remembering:

We cannot force ourselves to forget, instead we need to acknowledge our loss as well as our feelings of sadness, loneliness, anger and fear.

East / Reorienting:

Things will not be the same as they were before, but they will be okay. This means looking at things differently, thinking about what is most important to us and making new plans.

South / Relying:

We need to rely on others. There is a natural tendency towards isolation, an important means of healing is staying connected to others. Social contact and keep busy are important coping skills.

West / Relaxing:

Take care of yourself: good nutrition, getting enough rest, our bodies tend to let us know when we are pushing too hard.

Try to do something for yourself, something that makes you feel good, feel relaxed listen to music, spend quiet time reading watch a favorite movie.

In the words of British poet, Alfred Tennyson, “Hope smiles from the threshold of the year to come, whispering, ‘it will be happier.’”