As the COVID-19/Coronavirus spreads nationally, I think it’s helpful to start with an understanding of what healthy grief looks like. Grief is a natural process. To experience a loss and not feel grief is unnatural. Similarly, trying to suppress it in yourself or in others is unhelpful in the long term. Suppressing grief keeps us stuck. Despite this, we’re often uncomfortable with or overwhelmed by the intensity of our grief, and the range of emotions it brings.
- Give yourself permission to grieve. No matter what else may be happening, one of the most important things that a grieving person can do is see themselves as courageous in their willingness to honestly feel their emotions and to communicate the importance of this to others.
- Remind others that you may need help remembering this. We sometimes need encouragement and help from others to feel our emotions rather than to numb or distract ourselves. So, beyond giving yourself permission to grieve, we need to be able to convey to others that it’s OK for us to feel pain and openly talk about loss. So often, people are afraid to bring up or ask about a loss, which can be isolating and invalidating.
- At the same time, grief is a process that plays out over time. Grief is not linear. We experience different emotions at different times, and sometimes we need breaks from the intensity of what we’re feeling. Sometimes we need loved ones to simply be present with us and supportive without the need to speak about the loss.
Because experiences of grief are so variable, it’s almost impossible for others to know what we need. This is especially true if they, themselves, aren’t experienced in dealing with grief. We may need to tell people that we want them to ask, to bring it up, and to not be afraid to talk. The support we can receive from others is important, although the kind of support we want can change from time to time. If we have loved ones or friends who we particularly trust, we may want to ask them to help us in our journey.
The ultimate task of grieving isn’t to “let someone go." The ongoing task of grieving is to find ways to incorporate the pain of loss into our being. And to retain the positive impact or memories of the deceased in a way that allows us to continue to feel close to the ones we’ve lost, without pain. Our inner circle can help us with this. They can help us remember and continue to celebrate someone, and they can recognize and honor the ways we have changed because of our experiences. In that way, we don’t have to forget or pretend we have forgotten someone. However, we have created room to continue to process the loss. Importantly, if our relationship with those we lost wasn’t all positive, our inner circle can help us navigate that or encourage us to work through that with a professional.
- It doesn’t take much for loved ones to have an impact. Often just asking and not being afraid to listen is the most important thing they can do. People are usually looking for someone to listen rather than to provide answers.
- After loss, moving forward and adjusting to life can feel like a betrayal of your loved one. If we can have new experiences with others at our side while we continue to talk about and remember our loved ones, this is often helpful.
Our rituals help us express and deal with difficult emotions, and when we can’t rely on those, it creates some challenges. Gatherings like memorials help validate grief and provide opportunities to show support. Cards or flowers help us express ourselves when we fear we don’t have the right words. These sorts of rituals are either vastly curtailed or completely unavailable at present. There are still ways to reach out. Any way we reach out is helpful because it demonstrates that we care. Simple messages, donations on someone’s behalf, or posting your thoughts or wishes are all meaningful. The care calendar provided on Give InKind, together with useful items, and resources are among the ways to make sure to coordinate systematic check-ins. Create a page for the bereaved and share it. Note that pages can be shared either privately with a core group or publicly.
COVID-19 reframes how we consider collective grief, but it is important to be sensitive to this nuance. Loss amidst more global trauma is at once validating, because it is immediately recognizable to others and yet also potentially minimizing if the loss is just one among many. Any loss that is sudden and unplanned has an increased risk of feeling traumatic to those who remain. The challenge is to grieve the individual and not become desensitized or overwhelmed.
If you believe that grief is a normal part of life and really a sign of love or care for the individual who was lost, it is easier to bear. It may be difficult to fully understand or experience losses that happen in a disaster and we may need to revisit those losses. We need to give permission for people to acknowledge loss when it happens and show support, even imperfectly, especially if chaos makes it more difficult to fully grieve however and whenever they need to.
This the third in a series of articles to provide guidance as to navigating situations we continue to navigate during the COVID-19/Coronavirus pandemic. We recognize that life continues in all aspects, even the pandemic impacts all of us in profound ways. We are on your team now as well as post-pandemic – and beyond. We invite you to visit our library of situationally specific articles here.
Give InKind does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. We have an affiliate relationship with many of the advertisers on our site, and may receive a commission from any products purchased from links in this article. See Terms & Conditions.