Grief During COVID-19: Mourning the Loss of “Normal”
|By Micah Davis, MSW, CSW
Grief can be an extremely difficult experience even during the best of circumstances.
Add in the layers of fear and uncertainty during a pandemic, and to put it lightly, a lot of us are having a hard time. It’s completely natural and expected that some challenging emotions might be coming up, so let’s explore some of those -- specifically as related to loss during COVID-19.
What does grief look like?
Everyone grieves differently, but some of the common experiences associated with grief can include:
Shock, feeling numb
Physical symptoms, like fatigue, nausea, changes in sleeping/eating patterns
Let’s talk about the different types of loss we could be experiencing during Coronavirus.
As the death count from COVID-19 continues to rise, the likelihood that any of us has personally lost someone to this virus increases.
While any kind of interpersonal loss is painful, the specific circumstances of COVID-19 can add its own challenges. The speed at which the virus can progress along with restrictions about visitors can make it difficult for people to find closure. Survivors may also feel added guilt about possible transmission of the virus or wonder if they could have taken more precautions to protect their loved one. All of these additional
complications can compound any of the above-listed experiences already associated with grief, creating a unique experience related to the COVID-19 era.
You also may have experienced the death of a loved one unrelated to COVID-19, which can bring about its own challenges.
During a widely recognized crisis, losing someone unrelated to the pandemic may make you feel like your loss isn’t as important, or that your grief is invisible. You may feel that somehow your loss isn’t seen as tragic as others. However, please remember that any loss is difficult, and your grief is valid. Your loved one’s life mattered, and so does your experience of losing them.
Along with individual losses, many of us have noticed a sense of collective loss within our society as a whole.
The deaths related to COVID-19 continue to surpass tragic milestones: people lost in 9/11, in the Revolutionary War, etc. It can be hard not to feel the weight of a loss of this magnitude. Further, the media has been full of images of death (especially violent deaths) which can weigh especially heavily during a time when people are already feeling unsafe or that their health is at risk.
Grief is not only about loss of human life; we are also grieving our idea of “normal” and what life was like pre-COVID.
For most of us, our day-to-day routine has completely changed, and our sense of security and safety has also decreased. This is a huge loss and can trigger a grief reaction. I have seen many people (and have done this myself) invalidate this part of their experience because “at least no one I know has died,” “at least I’m not sick,” “at least I still have a job,” etc.
Pro tip: if the phrase starts with “at least….” stop right there. It’s not a competition. Both things can be true: other people may have it objectively worse AND your experience is still hard.
It’s ok to grieve that you didn’t have that graduation ceremony you were looking forward to, or couldn’t take that trip, or that you’ve lost your typical routine in general. Give yourself space to notice what you’ve lost, and to recognize that loss. Those emotions are valid, and it’s okay to acknowledge them.
So what can we do?
Everyone grieves differently, and it may take some time and creativity to find what helps you. Be patient with yourself through this process! It’s worth it.
Allow yourself to experience the grief in the first place.
It’s a natural response to loss, and you’ll be okay. But you have to feel it before you can move forward, or it will continue lingering at the back of your mind. I was afraid that if I let myself acknowledge all that I had lost from my pre-COVID life that I would get so bogged down in grief and depression, I wouldn’t be able to resurface. But rather than meeting the grief with that kind of resistance mindset, try accepting it as part of your experience. Let it move through you. Then let it go.
A shift in perspective was key for me here. Shauna Janz, a grief specialist, says,
“Grief is gratitude. Grief is praise.”
Grief is just a sign that something was important to you. In this way, grief and gratitude are two sides of the same coin. If you find yourself mourning a loss and you’re having a hard time with it, pause and reconceptualize it: try focusing on all the reasons you’re grateful to have experienced it. This subtle shift in thinking helped the loss seem more manageable.
Find ways to honor what you’ve lost. If it’s a person, you might honor them by making their favorite meal, visiting their favorite places, or looking through old photographs and reflecting on memories with them. If it was an activity or other aspect of your life, think about what it is that you miss so much, and how you can try to integrate that into your current situation. For example, if you’re grieving not being able to go to the gym, is it the physical exercise you miss the most, or the experience of community? How can you still access both of those things within the parameters of what your life looks like now?
Find creative ways to express what you’re feeling. This could include journaling, art, meditation exercises – there are so many different possibilities here! You can really customize it for what feels best for you.
Set small, realistic, short-term goals (SMART goals) for yourself. It could be as simple as taking a shower or cooking yourself a meal, or more complex, like a professional goal you’d like to accomplish. Having manageable, attainable goals can help to get back some feeling of security and control.
Remember your basic needs. Coping with any kind of emotion is even more difficult if you’re malnourished and sleep-deprived. Grief is already hard; don’t make it harder on yourself.
Allow yourself small moments of joy, however fleeting. Sometimes grieving people are afraid that letting themselves feel positive emotions is in some way dishonoring their loss. Pay attention to anything that makes you feel a little lighter or able to cope and try to find ways to incorporate more of those things throughout your day.
Reach out to others. All of us have experienced major life changes and upheavals, so the goods news is that none of us has to experience it alone. Remember your support network (it can help to make a physical list of people you can reach out to) and call on them for support when you need it.
If you’re having an especially hard time navigating any of these experiences, or if you’re overwhelmed with how to navigate them, you can also reach out to a mental health professional for online counseling. These people can witness and validate your grief experience while helping you to cope with any of the challenges.
This is a quick overview of an incredibly complex experience, but please remember: we have all experienced losses of various types recently, and grief is a natural reaction to those. It’s okay to recognize and mourn the things we’ve lost, even if they seem “trivial” in the midst of a global crisis like a pandemic.
If you’d like extra support working through this experience, please reach out and make an appointment.
We’re here for you.
Micah Davis is a Clinical Social Worker in our Richmond location. She loves working with children and families and helping them learn (and unlearn) adaptive ways of behaving and communicating. When She's not working, she likes hanging out with her dog, hiking/exploring nature, and baking.
If you need extra support during COVID, she would love to assist you!
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What if I own a mental health group practice and need extra support and resources during this time? We have just the thing! Kasey Compton, CEO of Mindsight Behavioral Group, is incredibly passionate about helping other practices succeed! Check out KC Consulting!
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