This week, we've spent some time talking about how to cope with grief, uncertainty, and isolation in these strange times. Candice Fortman, Chief of Engagement and Operations of Outlier Media, has had to think about this for many years. Two years ago, she wrote in an article on Medium titled "Why I Still Get Out of Bed" about grieving the loss of her mother as an only child.
In it, she recounts struggling to find reasons to leave her bed in the weeks after her mother's death.
"I sat there in tears and finally a phrase falls into my mind: You can breathe in. You can feel the wind on your face. You can process thoughts. You have everything you need to survive. I repeated those words to myself until I was out of the bed and on my feet."
In the span of 4 years, Fortman lost her mother, grandmother, and grandfather, all of whom helped raise her. As a community leader in her Detroit neighborhood, Fortman said she is drawing on her own experiences of grief to help those around her losing loved ones to COVID-19.
On life lessons from Mom
Fortman’s mother was a precinct delegate in Detroit and a block club president. Fortman said her mother’s consistent support and love for the community helped inform her idea of what leadership looks like.
“That sort of leadership is what I’m leaning on today, as I'm not the president of my block club, and trying to help my neighbors navigate what is a new world that we are living in right now. I am leaning on the lessons that my mother taught me, and I am still leaning on those lessons of my grandparents as well.”
On grieving during COVID-19
Funerals were an important way to celebrate and process the lives of her loved ones, Fortman said. But it's unclear what saying goodbye to those who pass away will look like while social distancing measures are still in effect. Not having a space to grieve with family and friends, Fortman said, is an added obstacle to healing.
“As I am watching people, who may have never experienced grief, experience it for the first time, and in such a different way than how you would normally experience grief, there are no funeral services. I was telling a friend of mine that for me the funeral, the celebrations of life as many African-Americans would call them, were sort of places I could go to in my head to remember that not only did I love this person, but all of these other folks loved this person."
The need to avoid gatherings to prevent the spread of COVID-19 has eliminated the physical comfort and support that Fortman said is essential for emotional healing.
“The rituals are gone right now. And so what we’ll have to do is find a way to support folks to find new rituals until they’re able to celebrate their family member’s lives in a way they deem fit.”
On Detroit and potential COVID-19 setbacks
The city of Detroit is already being hit hard by COVID-19. There have been 2,860 cases and 97 deaths in the city so far. Fortman said she worries about how the outbreak will impact city residents already facing other struggles.
“I am concerned about our ability to recover in so many ways after this. We already have residents that are struggling in so many ways, and this is a tremendous setback. I also know this is a place of deep resilience and community support. So my faith is high that Detroit will find a way.”