In the Era of Covid-19: Virtual Grieving & Holding Space

Wherever I look, I see grief. This might be an occupational hazard, given that I work within the realm of grief and loss.  In all of my conversations, grief is just below the surface, no matter which topic is being spoken.  A pandemic has swept across our world, and in its wake is grief.

There is grief in the feeling of anxiety that has begun to seep into our daily existence, where it might not have been before. What makes this grief so different, and so challenging, is that there isn’t a person among us who isn’t feeling it in some way. There is no safe space or buffer from it.  This grief is inescapable and none of us are immune from it in some way. Whenever feelings of grief and loss emerge, they can feel so powerful and in fact, overwhelming. They are the apex, in so many ways, of all of the human emotion.

Holding space well on digital technology is a new challenge.

  • Grief speaks to the love that we have for someone or something. It comes as a heart feels like it is breaking as it is unable to show, once more, its love, and in that absence is grief. Before this virus, we had rituals to manage the intensity of these feelings that included our community gathering, offering comfort (in some cultures, this translates to food), and creating space to hold all of the intense emotions that loss brings.

With this pandemic, our rituals need to shift. Hopefully, some comfort can be found as new rituals emerge albeit on digital.

  • In death, the need for a funeral translates amongst nearly all cultures and traditions. Funerals give closure and enable families to say goodbye in a very concrete way. With physical distancing, funerals tend to be minimal, if they can occur at all. Now, it might be only a few family members, seated apart from one another, rather than close in. A funeral or memorial might also be held using technology such as Skype, Facetime, or Zoom. While these methods can sometimes feel isolating, there are unexpected discoveries too. “Zoom funerals suck…but it’s also kind of awesome that 14 time zones can participate at the same time," said one patient. Technology can enable those mourners to be “with" you when they wouldn’t have been able to make the trip in the past.

Human touch is one thing that can’t be approximated, which can make mourning feel more isolating. If you are living with others:

  • let them know that you need physical contact.
  • If you are distant from others, there are a few ideas that can help you feel contained or grounded, similar to how touch can. You can cocoon yourself on a bed or a couch with blankets wrapped around you tightly and pillows on both sides. Holding stuffed animals or a body pillow can also give you that feeling of an embrace.
  • Weighted blankets give the sensation of pressure that can be useful, or you can use double sealed Ziploc bags with water inside to give a sense of pressure. Other soft objects that can hold weight can do the same — for example, a neck warmer that is filled with sand. 

Connection and feeling connected can be a hard activity to replace in a digital space.

  • Certainly, virtual calls can approximate some of the sense of connection, but we are only using one sense (sight) when we are on them, and we are losing out on other social cues from body language and facial expression, so oftentimes, these calls leave us feeling more depleted. You might consider using the phone to connect with loved ones, as it can give your eyes a rest.
  • If using a Skype-like platform, focus on looking at the screen where the person is, rather than at the camera. If you can have the camera pointing down at you, that can help make it feel more natural. It’s discombobulating to try to look both at the camera and the screen to “make eye contact." For a sense of comfort, have the call while you are wrapped in a blanket that you can pull tighter on yourself.

Know, as well, that there are other ways to scaffold social connection.

  • There are other ways to make safe contact if you are local. Deliver them a care package of soothing items — things that let them know you are holding them in your heart.
  • Having a friend arrange a Give InKind Care Calendar continues the tradition of bringing food as a way to comfort.
  • Creating a gift card for delivery might be a way for others to share the food experience in a way that feels safe.
  • Other ways that people work to create community is to come and have distanced chats. This creates the in-person experience, though preserving the sense of safety.

It is important, as well, not to discount the intangible losses, sometimes not treated as grief in the same way death is. There are cancellations such as weddings and graduations. These sorts of losses are difficult to compare to the illness and death thousands have suffered. But if someone loses a business they worked years to grow, there is cutting grief there.

We are all existing alongside the loss of different sorts and knowing how to manage deep disappointment deferred for a long-held goal is something we can permit ourselves to experience.

There are more esoteric losses that we are all experiencing as well, such as the loss of physical touch, in-person connection, and the mobility that we have taken for granted. We feel manifestly less safe. For many of us, leaving our residence means taking whatever precautions we are able and potentially scrutinizing our every move (Did I touch my face? Did I touch something that might have the virus on it? Will I bring it back home?). 

Finally, self-compassion and compassion for others can yield dividends in terms of healing. Starting for yourself, or having others, start a meditation practice in loving-kindness can bring a sense of calm. Several studies indicate that there is a multitude of benefits that can come from this particular type of meditation practice. Remember that in all times, grief is a non-linear process. Continue to take care of yourself and to meet your basic needs of food, shelter, sleep, and safety. 

Give InKind is honored to feature Julie Bindeman, Psy-D.

This the tenth 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.

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