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Dealing with Grief During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Currently we are in unprecedented times where we are being told to stay at home and only go out if we are “essential” to the workforce which are mostly those in public service such as policemen, firemen and those on the front lines at hospitals such as doctors and nurses. With the Pandemic no one […]

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Currently we are in unprecedented times where we are being told to stay at home and only go out if we are “essential” to the workforce which are mostly those in public service such as policemen, firemen and those on the front lines at hospitals such as doctors and nurses.

With the Pandemic no one has told us how to deal with grief. Grief isn’t just about grieving for a loved one who was lost but it is also about dealing with the uncertainty that millions of people around the world are dealing with as we speak.

Due to Covid-19 (aka the Coronavirus) many of us have lost loved ones due to the virus in addition to natural causes. 

I personally have lost three friends to the virus and so many others have lost close friends and family. Not being able to have funerals and wakes right now due to social distancing is heartbreaking. A virtual funeral or wake isn’t the same as being able to grieve the loss of a loved one with your family and friends. 

Grief and grieving is different for everyone. There is no set time frame or time period that someone will need to get through the loss of a loved one. It can take for some a short time and for others years. In some cases there will always be underlying grief. 

How does one cope with Grief, one may ask? 

Dr. Stephanie Vaughn, PsyD shared some coping mechanisms and things we can do during the grieving process:

There is absolutely no way I know of to completely circumvent the pain without creating long-term suffering. In other words, it is a natural response to have grief when there is loss…and for it to hurt. If a person “battles” the natural grief process (or any emotional experience really) by pushing it out of their minds constantly, telling themselves they should get over it, avoiding thinking about or talking about it, using alcohol or drugs to cope, or otherwise attempting to “get around” it instead of “going through” it, they will continually struggle until they choose to experience it AS IT IS. It’s very much like a debt that needs to be paid. Yes, you can “put it on the credit card” now,  so to speak, but the “interest” compounds and at some point, the “debt collector” comes calling in the form of depression, anxiety, anger, and relationship problem, just to name a few. Better to pay the debt as you’re able to. You may only be able to pay a bit now…that’s ok. The great thing about the grief process is that you can “pay” as you’re able. If you are grieving, you will know what I mean by that. 

Specific things that are important are: 

Be patient. Having a kind and patient attitude toward yourself. Stop “battling.” It’s not a race to the finish and it’s not a war. 

Avoid blame and move through anger. There’s a natural tendency for humans to look for who’s to blame, but it is also one of the most unhelpful grief processes. It creates bitterness, resentment, and relationship issues regardless of whether the blame is external, internal, or both. Blame is really just our way of distracting from processing grief and imagining that we have control over more than we actually do. It’s important to recognize any tendency to blame, refuse to be distracted by it, be kind to yourself for blaming, and know that if you commit to not blaming, it will pass in time.

Cry. We were made to cry. Some people have difficulty crying. That’s ok. You can use music, sad movies, seemingly irrelevant situations that make you emotional, journaling, or anything else that gets your emotions going. The key is to bring to your awareness that even though it looks on the surface like you are crying about a commercial, for example, you are actually grieving the loss of your loved one. 

Keep going. Yes, taking a break is fine. Yes, withdrawing temporarily may be necessary. But don’t stop living. Engage in the world as you are able and don’t expect the same of yourself as you did before. You are different now and you need to learn about yourself again.  

Here are some practices that might help with specific issues such as insomnia, agitation, tolerating distress, etc.  include: 

  • Guided imagery apps to sleep 
  • Podcasts about grief, mindfulness, Zen based talks, etc. 
  • Grief support groups (online of course) 
  • Breathing exercises and meditations such as Lovingkindess meditation   
  • Spiritual practices such as praying and possibly exploring new ones  
  • Yoga practices which are specific to grief 
  • Repeating mantras throughout the day such as “Healing happens at my own pace,” “Love is with me now,”  or whatever feels ok
  • Vigorous exercise such as running on a treadmill or other cardiovascular training 
  • Audiobooks of soothing children’s stories or soothing music 
  • Spending time with pets or small children
  • Creating art in the form of writing songs, poems, paintings, drawings, sculptures, etc.

As mentioned above regarding how long grief lasts, I spoke with Jennifer Hoskins-Tomko, LCSW, owner of Clarity Health Solutions in Jupiter, Fl and she offered some great insight on how to cope and grieve.

I answer this question cautiously. There is NO timeline. Everyone grieves at different rates and none of these timelines are to be judged. We may find ourselves grieving different losses at different paces.  

One rule of thumb is that it is about two years. The despair should gradually improve throughout that time. Two years because the first year is for creating new traditions without that person, figuring out new ways of celebrating holidays and memorializing special days that the loved one shared. The second year we are likely to have adjusted to the new holiday tradition and we don’t have to make that decision again.

With that said, there will continue to be mini-grieving periods even after we have accepted the loss. For example, a child will grieve the loss of a parent during milestones that the loved one would have normally attended, such as prom, graduation, wedding, birth of child, etc. These should be brief.

Grief is an evolving process that we must go through to heal. Each person’s journey with grief is unique. Be patient with yourself. Don’t judge your feelings, just notice them.

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