Grief under normal conditions can be hard. Add a pandemic to the equation and there's another layer of grief to contend with. Grief is the normal reaction to loss. According to The Grief Recovery Method, in addition to death, there are, "40 other life events that can create feelings of grief." The pandemic has brought many of these losses to the forefront. Unfortunately, we've lost people we love during this difficult time. In addition, secondary to the pandemic, most of us are faced with non-death losses as well. Both can include feelings of anger, loneliness, despair, sadness, hopelessness, and depression.
Because of COVID-19, many people are dying apart from their loved-ones. The thought of someone we love "dying alone" can be heartbreaking. As hard as it is, we want to be there to provide love and comfort as they make their transition. It has been argued that this experience is more important for those left behind than for the person who died. Understandingly so, many of my clients express strong feelings of regret and guilt for not being able to participate in this life-altering moment. Even though you weren't allowed to be there, there is the sense that you should have been there.
The homegoing celebration is our way of honoring the life of the dead. Because of the requirement to socially distance, funeral services were drastically altered and some even eliminated. Although this was necessary, it doesn't stop people from feeling helpless, hurt, and disappointed. The opportunity to partake in this one last traditional ritual in the way expected is gone forever.
There is an interesting parallel between how we feel after losing a loved one and how we experience the secondary or non-death losses that came as a result of the pandemic. For instance, both create a sense uncertainty. Our assumptions about what we thought was certain, i.e., going to work every day, schools always open, freedom to move around, etc., shattered our belief system. Even more, both challenge how we see the world as well as how we see ourselves in the world after a major loss. No matter the type of loss, grief impacts us emotionally, physically, and spiritually.
How to Cope
Grief, by its own nature, can be unpredictable and overwhelming. In many ways, coping with non-death losses is similar to how you cope with the death of a loved one. Even though no two people grieve alike, and not everybody heal in the same way, there are some things that can be helpful to all grievers.
1) Don't stuff your feelings and pretend they don't exist. Acknowledge what they are and recognize they're there for a reason.
2) Stay connected to your support system. Obviously, this will look different during a pandemic but it can still be helpful and nurturing in whatever form it takes.
3) Be patient. Too often we try to push through and move on with our lives as if nothing has happened. A major loss changes who you are so allow yourself time to adjust and adapt to the change.
4) Practice self-care. Don't underestimate the benefit of sleep, a healthy diet, and exercise, even if modified because of grief.
5) Seek professional help if you find that the level your grief reactions are persistent and debilitating.
Finally, you may not be able to control what's happening around you, but you can choose to control how you respond. Remind yourself that, "This too shall pass." Nothing lasts forever. Think back to a time when you were able to overcome a difficult situation in your life and use this as evidence of your resiliency and to remind you of what's possible.