During this time of uncertainty amid the pandemic, we are in grief—we’re grieving all sorts of losses, big and small: the loss of expectations, the loss of normalcy, the loss of vacations, graduations, physical connections, even grocery shopping as we used to know it. Many people I know are also grieving the loss of a loved one, whether through the pandemic or through some other means. I recently lost my mother-in-law to ovarian cancer, and in some strange way, we were lucky enough to lose her before the pandemic set in. We were able to visit with her in the hospital, to be together as a family during her illness and death, and to participate in many of the traditional and comforting rituals such as holding a funeral with several hundred mourners and a lovely celebration of life afterwards where our family gathered to meet
with extended family and friends.
Yet even though we were able to begin the grieving process this way, the pandemic has magnified it and made it that much more difficult, especially considering all the many little things that we are grieving now as well. I have cycled through the stages of grief outlined by Swiss-American psychiatrist Kübler-Ross whose 1969 book
On Death and Dying argued that grief could be divided into five stages: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Her theory of grief is the most widely known, though there are others. Not everyone goes through all the stages of grief, nor do they necessarily process them in the order listed by Kübler-Ross. Members of my family experienced her death differently, but it was clear that we were, and still are, experiencing the stages of grief outlined by Kübler-Ross. And the stress of the COVID-19 pandemic has made the grieving process that much more difficult.
For those of us who have lost loved ones during this time, or are experiencing grief in many parts of our lives, often unexpectedly, how do we deal with that grief in a healthy way when many of our traditional, comforting routines and rituals have been upset by this pandemic?
Though the magnitude of the events we’re grieving may differ greatly, from the loss of a milestone like graduation to the loss of a loved one, there are things we can do to help us process the grief in a healthy way.
Families of students who were poised to graduate and move on to a new and exciting stage in their lives have found other ways to celebrate than through the traditional parties and ceremonies. Sharing photos and memories virtually, through social media, has become an endearing and charming way to support graduating students. And it may help to bring us together—there’s nothing like chuckling over graduation pictures that are twenty to thirty years old to support students graduating now. Sharing those embarrassing and funny memories creates new connections and webs of support.
The family of a friend who lost her father-in-law maintained the rite of passage of a burial for him—it looked different, of course, given the restrictions and concerns of the pandemic. They held a Zoom burial; family members were able to say prayers and to bear witness to the ceremony as they said goodbye to her father-in-law. They were able to feel supported and loved, and to show the love and grief over the loss of a loved one, by seeing their family members on the phone with them.
Whatever kind of grief you’re experiencing right now, know that many others are grieving with you. Some of the following might be helpful to deal with our grief during this uncertain time:
- Spend time texting and talking on the phone with others. We all crave connection, and though it isn’t quite the same as seeing someone in person, it is still a valuable way to connect.
- Share funny childhood photos—this helps to enable the sharing and processing of memories, whether in the celebration of a graduation and new start, or in the commemoration of a loved one who has passed away.
- Share memories, stories, hopes, goals, and plans. Envision what these goals and plans will look like in action when the time comes.
- If you are mourning the loss of a loved one, know that there will be a time that you will be able to come together with friends and family to celebrate the life of your loved one. Take the time to plan for this and imagine what it will look like.
- Be sure to take time for yourself. If you live with others, it can be difficult to find time alone. Try to carve out time to take a walk, watch a movie that you enjoy, read a book you’ve wanted to but haven’t had the time to.
- Eat a healthy diet, get enough sleep, and get physical activity. Get outside—the fresh air will be good for you.
- Take time for yourself to do those things that make you happy and allow you to push forward in your life.
It can be hard to deal with the loss of something or someone in the best of times. Unusual circumstances like a pandemic can magnify that loss and difficulty with coping. If you find that you are really struggling to cope, seek professional help. Let us help you find a support group, reach out to The Center Support Line, or look into therapy
services with us.
The Center Support Line: 970.252.6220
A free, 24-hour talk line is open to our community during difficult times. If you are feeling stressed, anxious, or just need someone to talk to, call — we can help. Call 970.252.3200 to learn more or to make an appointment.
Written by Kate Hurley, The Center for Mental Health