Resolving Your Grief Over Covid
The losses we are sustaining during this pandemic are immeasurable. Our lives have changed forever. I remember whining about referring to the consequences of COVID as our “new normal”. That was at the very beginning and I had no idea that everything in our lives would change so dramatically. And, there doesn’t look that there is an end in sight. Complicated feelings and emotions are starting to pop up everywhere – from me to my granddaughter going back to school, to friends who have lost jobs, to friends who have lost loved ones. How are we supposed to move forward?
Living in this pandemic in isolation, we can experience many challenges in how our lives have changed. One emotion that most of us are probably experiences but not understanding this emotion – is grief. We are grieving the loss of our old life. We are told to not look back because we need to move forward to our new lives. This doesn’t even sound like an easy thing to do. We are mired in grief. Grief is a natural reaction to the losses we are sustaining. This is a very personal experience but very valid at this time of COVID. Common grief reactions include:
· Shock, disbelief, or denial
· Periods of sadness
· Loss of sleep and loss of appetite
Some of us have experienced multiple losses throughout this pandemic. For some, a loved one has died from some other disease or accident, but you were not allowed to be with them as they passed. And to make matters worse, you could not mourn with families and friends. A friend of mine’s mother died in the early months of COVID and she could not sit with her, or hold her hand, or tell her how much she loved her. She was devastated. Then, no one was allowed to attend the funeral or go to the cemetery.
Even though I have known a few people who tested positive, I am blessed that I do not know anyone who has died from the virus. I have a few friends who owned small businesses. Some were able to get government loans, but others had to decide if they were going to keep their business open. It is so sad to see many years of work be wiped out in a few months. And then there were others who lost their jobs. My son was on a major film production and one day after the announcement of the national emergency, they closed production and shut everything down. He has a wife and baby daughter and his means of providing for them was gone. And to make matters worse, there is no indication of when he will go back to work. All of this was beyond anyone’s control, but it impacted their lives immensely. How do you just move forward when you don’t even know what that means?
We are living in collective grief right now. Data is supporting the fact that mental illness rise, and substance abuse are on the rise. It is time that we acknowledge that we must process our grief if we expect to move forward. “Grief left unintended has long term consequences to mental, emotional, and physical health that could impact individuals and communities far into the future. Complicated grief presents with extended time periods of heightened experiences of bereavement that disrupt normal functioning and sometimes include suicidality. The pain of loss is real, and we have yet to scratch the surface of understanding how this will look in a post-COVID-19 world.” (Scientific American blog, May 22, 2020)
How, then, do we cope with grief?
· Recognize your loss: After a significant loss, you may be numb for a while. Being numb allows us to accept the loss a little at a time. It is important to acknowledge the loss and the pain.
· Be with the pain: You are hurting. Admit it. Feeling the pain after a loss is a normal part of living and loving. Denying the loss does not lessen the pain, it prolongs the suffering.
· Accept all your feelings, even the feelings you don’t like. Fear, anger, guilt, sadness, depression, despair, heartbreak, and an overwhelming feeling of disorganization are characteristic reactions to a significant loss. Avoiding naming and feeling our feelings, will mean our feelings will be expressed in unexpected ways.
· It is okay to feel anger: Everyone feels angry at a significant loss. Channel it wisely and it will go away as you heal. Walk, run, and exercise. If you find yourself more irritable, journal and explore what your anger is about. Anger is also a way for some people to avoid feeling the more vulnerable feelings of sadness.
· You are vulnerable, be gentle with yourself: Invite help only from people who you know will be gentle with your feelings and can accept all of your feelings.
· You are not alone, seek comfort as you need it: Although you feel alone and grieving is an individual process, you are not alone. Grieving is a sad part of life that everyone experiences. Accept support from others. Let them know what they can do to help. Do not expect comfort from a grieving partner as your partner may not be able to give what you need due to their own grief. Weekends and holidays can be very hard, make plans with others.
· Suicidal thoughts are a symptom of your pain: Sometimes people feel survivor’s guilt or that they wished they had died instead of their loved one. Call a crisis line where you can talk to a therapist or go to the nearest emergency center.
· Healing does not occur in a smooth line or on a timetable: Healing occurs in phases where you move in and out of different feelings. Remind yourself that you can get through this. If it feels like you have been there long enough, remember there is no way around grieving. You can only accept where you are in each moment and continue on your journey.
· Heal at your own pace: Never compare yourself to another grieving person. Each of us has our own timing.
· Expect relapse: There will always be things that trigger sadness again. This is normal.
· Keep a journal: Putting your thoughts and feelings on paper is a good way to get them out and understand them.
· Do your mourning now: Allow yourself to be with your pain – it will pass sooner. Postponed grief will return later.
There is a final step to getting through the grief process. Death and grieving expert David Kessler wrote about Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’s five stages of grief and felt there was another stage we all must go through. That stage is Meaning. As he puts it, “Meaning does not bring you peace in grief, but it can give you a cushion”. Ultimately, it is the meaning you find in your life after experiencing the loss. That is what you should focus on.
Bridges, F. (May 31, 2020). Resources for grieving in the time of Covid-19. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/francesbridges/2020/05/32/resources-for-giving-in-the-time-of-covid-19/#500504ea562f
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (June 11, 2020). Grief & loss. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-acov/daily-life-coping/stress-coping/grief-loss.html
Purdue Counseling & Psychological Services. Coping with grief and loss – mourning the changes since Covid-19. Retrieved from https://www.purdue.edu/caps/covid-19/coping-with-grief.Html
Ungerleider. S., Smith, C. B. (May 22, 2020). Grief in the time of Covid-19. Retrieved from https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/observations/grief-in-the-time-of-covid19/?print=true