Discussing Grief, the Environment, and COVID-19 with Thanatologist Kriss Kevorkian

July 12, 2020

By Izzy Almasi

“I had this overwhelming sense of grief as I was reading about the destruction of the environment, more whale species just beaching themselves and so on. As I was reading all of this, this grief just kept coming up. And I’m like, I have environmental grief,” says Kriss Kevorkian. Kevorkian is a thanatologist, someone who studies death, dying and bereavement. Despite the last name and area of expertise, she is no relation to Dr. Jack Kevorkian — who became famous in the US for his work on assisted dying.

In a recent interview with Skaana podcast host Mark Leiren-Young, Kevorkian offered advice on how to cope with a world being rocked by COVID-19. “It’s not an easy time for anybody, but if you can find that something just within a moment where you can see any glimmer of hope, build on that and that will hopefully help you keep going… The lessons that I find from grief and from death are appreciating what we have in the now.”

Kevorkian’s key advice for anyone struggling to process the whirlwind world we live in, is to savour the details of our lives.

“Every moment, every person, every loved one, whether it’s nature, humans, whatever,” says Kevorkian. “Appreciate it all, because you never know when it’s going to be gone.”

Kevorkian’s own experiences led her to coin the term “environmental grief” and brought a new perspective to the field by recognizing the similarities between people’s reactions to the death of a loved one, and to the degradation of the environment.

“The way that I defined [environmental grief] was that it’s the grief reaction stemming from the environmental loss of ecosystems caused by natural or man-made events,” she says. “Ecological grief is the grief reaction stemming from the disconnection and relational loss from our natural world.”

Kevorkian is resistant to making these definitions clinical. She wants people to know that the emotional responses they are having to our ever-changing world is normal and takes time to process.

“I don’t want [environmental grief] to be medicalized. I don’t see grief as a disorder. I see it as a life issue and so I wish people would stop trying to medicalize it because I don’t see my environmental grief or ecological grief as a disorder. I see it as a proper reaction to what’s happening on the planet and to species,” says Kevorkian. “It’s part of the anticipatory grief that people have as our roles are changing. Everything that we’re seeing is changing. It’s all different. What is our future going to be? How is it going to change?”

To listen to the full interview visit www.skaana.orgApple Podcasts, or Stitcher. Be sure to tune in to Skaana for upcoming episodes with guests like renowned ichthyologist Daniel Pauly and Paul Wohlleben, author of The Secret Life of Trees, and inspiring young eco-hero, Robbie Bond. For more information on Kriss Kevorkian’s work, visit https://drkkevorkian.com .

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