April 16, 2020 High School Seniors: Grieving the Loss of “Normal”
Dear Vicki: I know this is a difficult time for everyone, but I am wondering how best to help my daughter Kim. She is a high school senior this year and with the pandemic, she clearly isn’t going to have the same experiences that her older sister did when she graduated from high school three years ago. No senior trip. No senior prom. No live graduation ceremony. Not even the girlfriend sleep-overs. There will be virtual events, but we all know that just isn’t going to be the same. The blessing is that we are all healthy and no one close to us has died from Covid-19. But still, missing so many of the events she has waited for is very hard for Kim. How can I help her process the loss and anger she is feeling? And is there any way to make it better for her? Signed: Mom
Dear Mom: My heart goes out to you and your daughter. Kim is one of an estimated 3.7 million high school seniors in our country who will not have many of the same senior year experiences that previous students have had. And while they may rationally understand the need for social distancing and sheltering at home, it is still difficult to accept that doing these things likely will “ruin” their senior year, at least as far as many of the activities they have looked forward to are concerned. Understanding the elemental personalities contained in the Five Elements model will help us determine how best to help Kim and her fellow seniors cope with the loss of a “normal” senior year.
Because you read this blog, I assume you’re familiar with the Five Elements model and the elemental personalities. But for those who are not familiar with the model or the elemental personalities, I gave a brief overview of both in a post last month which you can read here.
Kim and her fellow high school seniors are facing the reality that the end of their high school careers will not be celebrated with many of the traditional events that have, for decades, marked this symbolic transition to adulthood. And like most of us, they can probably get to a place where they rationally understand that not coming together in large social events will probably save lives – possibly even their own lives or the lives of people they love – but missing the events they have looked forward to for years is still very hard. In truth, I think most of them are grieving a loss of expectations.
Each of the elemental personalities will process the loss of expectations differently, and each will have specific ways that this loss can be addressed and made “better.” Since I’m not sure which elemental personality best fits Kim, we’ll take a look at ways to help each elemental personality as any kind of “normal” goes out the window these days. And remember, while we each have a primary personality manifestation, we do have all five of these personalities in our energetic make-up, so will likely recognize parts of ourselves in each.
Water and Lost Expectations: Water personalities thrive on ideas, creativity, philosophic beliefs, and the idea of being part of something larger than themselves; something like a high school class. The loss of graduation events and activities will not be as difficult for a Water person as will the loss of the ability to identify with the group. However, the act of graduating – the symbolic transitioning to a new reality – is important to the Water personality. If Kim is a Water personality (which I don’t suspect she is), I would encourage you to augment whatever virtual event her school offers with some form of acknowledgement at home. Perhaps her older sister (if she is home with you) could symbolically “welcome” her to the world of graduates. Another important attribute of the Water personality is the ability to envision the future. For any Water person grieving the loss of “normalcy” these days, encouraging them to imagine a future where either the old normal returns (if that remains important to them) or a new normal is created will be right up their alley because imagination sits in the Water element. Also, Water people generally “go with the flow,” so most of them will work with whatever is presented to them, unless they have already made up their mind to flow another way.
Wood and Lost Expectations: Wood personalities thrive on accomplishment and success. They are also the best planners of the elemental personalities. In fact, because Wood people focus on plans for the future, expectations sit in Wood. If Kim is a primary Wood personality (which I suspect she might be), dashed expectations will be especially hard for her, especially if any aspect of her accomplishments during high school were going to be honored. Ideally, whatever virtual event her school is planning will still honor individual accomplishments, but you can augment that with a family ceremony at home. Perhaps you might be comfortable “awarding” Kim something you know will matter to her as an acknowledgement of her accomplishments. And because Wood people love planning, making this award a future event for when things might be back closer to normal will be fine. Of course, planning anything else you know your daughter would enjoy should be part of the celebration, as well. If Kim is a Wood personality, anything you do to acknowledge her successes and celebrate the accomplishment of finishing high school will be important.
Fire and Lost Expectations: Fire personalities are usually passionate people who thrive on movement, activity, and fun. They are wired for play and celebration; the more the merrier. Quick to laugh and focused on now, they are usually the life of the party wherever they are. If Kim is a primary Fire personality (which I don’t think she is), the loss of the celebrations around graduation will be the biggest problem for her. Yes, you can do virtual events (I think Zoom can handle up to 100 people), and that might be fine for Kim, but it isn’t going to be the same as a huge and wildly fun graduation party with her friends. The good news is that Fire people are so fluid, “normal” usually isn’t a big deal to them. They can create a fun time almost anywhere. For the Fire people who will not be able to have the large celebrations and events right now, try to provide small celebrations (fun is fun for a Fire person, no matter the number of people) that include things you know are fun for Kim. Does she love dancing? Or maybe movies are her thing? Whatever kind of event you can create that will emphasize what Kim thinks is fun (and still practice social distancing) will be good. Promises of future parties will be nice, too, but remember that Fire people focus on now. So, if Kim is a Fire personality, make sure you do something to honor graduation when it happens.
Earth and Lost Expectations: Earth personalities care deeply about lasting connections, family, house, and home. They love food, gardening, helping others, and are generally very inclusive. If Kim is a primary Earth personality (which I don’t think she is), the loss of events around graduation that bring family and close friends together will be a real problem for her. The good news is that you can have as many immediate family events and celebrations as you want. These celebrations can include as many of Kim’s favorite foods as available and will certainly serve to honor her. Earth people are usually defined by their family and friends, so making sure Kim has as much access to interaction (from a safe distance) with her friends will be important, too. And because Earth people care so deeply about others, it will likely be easier for them to understand and accept current limitations made in the name of the greater good. Oh, and a great graduation gift for an Earth graduate who is stuck at home could be a pandemic puppy. Earth people love animals!
Metal and Lost Expectations: Metal personalities are wired to manage endings by synthesizing the lessons, then letting go. If Kim is a primary Metal personality (which I doubt), the loss of expected graduation events will likely be met with a shrug. However, Metal people are similar to Wood people in that they like acknowledgment, especially for smarts and wisdom. If Kim has done well academically, it will matter a lot that this is acknowledged, as it likely would have been at a formal graduation. If this is the case, perhaps it might be possible for the school principle to write a letter (or email) to Kim lauding her academic accomplishments. And of course, make a big deal out of it at any family party you have for her. If Kim is a Metal personality – and certainly for any Metal personalities reading this post – it is important to remember that endings of all kinds sit in Metal. Balanced Metal people are brilliant at looking back, but they accept endings as part of a cycle and move on. These days, the stress of the pandemic may make it harder for many people to let go and move on. If you see this happening in Kim, or anyone else, it is important to encourage them to step into the Water element and begin imagining the beginning of the next cycle.
I hope this helps answer your questions and provides possible ways to help Kim deal with a senior year and graduation that is surely not going to be normal. The fact that Kim is feeling angry about the loss of a normal senior year suggests to me that she is a primary Wood personality. Fairness matters to Wood people, so in addition to the suggestions under the Wood section above, I would also encourage you to help Kim realize that this pandemic has created situations that are unfair for millions of people. We are all in this together and the best we can do is to help each other make it through. Blessings to you and your family!