Grieving a Loss from COVID-19
Grieving a loss from COVID-19 requires courage and an openness to converse about one’s emotions. The unique ability of the virus to level everyone and create an international community is helpful to the grieving process. COVID-19 can affect anyone, it is spreading at a rapid rate, and there is currently no cure. In dealing with the pandemic, there are three simple pieces of advice:
- Protect yourself and others (wear masks in public, adhere to social distancing, and shelter-in place).
- Stay connected to family, friends, and loved ones; be vigilant without being anxious.
- Be patient, remain calm and persevere.
COVID-19 is very contagious virus. The devastation and losses it causes cut across the four levels of human functioning: physical, emotional, cognitive and spiritual. Healing from the grief COVID-19 has caused will require the same approach. COVID-19 can affect anyone, and the uncertainty coupled with the broadness, suddenness and depth of its trauma exposure make grief work complicated. It is a peculiar kind of trauma, and we are all disproportionately exposed to it. The resolution process calls for grief work and finding your voice to narrate your experience.
According to Smith and Segal (2016), “Grief is a natural response to loss. It’s the emotional suffering you feel when something or someone you love is taken away. The more significant the loss, the more intense the grief will be.”
COVID-19 has caused us to lose things we love and care about:
- Loss of structure and freedom to participate in activities we enjoy.
- Loss of the way we normally manage emotional and physical closeness.
- Loss of freedom to move around, restricted to sheltering in place with people we may not be comfortable with and separated physically from people we miss.
- Economic and financial losses.
- Loss of milestones – weddings, births, graduation ceremonies, vacations, holidays, rituals, and faith worship.
Loss of life is the most devastating instance of loss we face. Death of loved ones without the ability to be by their bedside, give them their rite of passage, or celebrate their life in a deserving way is devastating.
Grief as a family process is lost. Grieving as a family during the pandemic has become exceedingly complicated. Prior traumatic experiences of abandonment and rejection are intensified. It is normal to go through a wide range of emotions drifting from clarity to confusion, from one extremity to another. If you are feeling discomfort and dismay, you are not alone. This suggests that you are grieving, and no one should grieve alone. In the dark moments of COVID-19 intentionality leads you to see your star shinning. “Death is an event that is deeply intimate and sacred for those who share in it” (Martin & Ferris, 2009). It is important to engage and grieve in a healthy manner.
4 Tasks of Grieving
- Accept the reality of the loss.
- Process the pain of grief; regulated sadness is a great healing remedy.
- Adjust to a new life without the deceased or what you have lost.
- Maintain enduring connection – do relational repair and find resolution to an unfinished business; to regain your balance stay grounded in the present; emotionally present in the moment empowers you to come out of isolation, connect with persons/places of trust and begin a new way of being in relationship with the deceased.
Tips for Coping and Living the New Normal:
- Acceptance – find your voice to share fond memories about the deceased or lost suffered. Life is no longer the same and this inspires life transitions. Put in place a new structure (internal and external) adequate for the new normal and your life will still be OK. This is an antidote to depression.
- Appreciate opportunities and precious moments shared with the deceased.
- Observe your normal routines and hobbies as much as you can.
- Be intentional with self-care and achieving wellness. It’s ok to feel selfish doing so. Your grief is your right.
- Letting go of what you can no longer keep allows you to preserve what you have that you cannot afford to lose.
- Make time to grieve. Sadness is the key to unblocking social emotions. Regulated sadness releases the brain’s hormones that reduce its perception of pain balancing it with comfort and vigilance.
- It’s ok to feel weak and frail. Identify your hurt and how it hurts. Acknowledge when you need help.
- Courageous conversation and social settings: connect with people you trust and support systems; be vulnerable enough to share your losses.
- Mindfulness, yoga, spirituality and prayer foster connection in deep places and aliveness.
- Try journaling. Narrating your experience gives you the voice to reconstruct your life.
- COVID-19 imposes restrictions; don’t fight it. Acknowledge your limitations and do the best you can to honor your loved one.
- Embrace your feelings, don’t think through them or sit on them. They may be uncomfortable but they are your best friends, always there with you and nudging you to unfold the meaning within your experiences.
- Anticipate your grief triggers and seek resolution.
Grief work is like an onion. You peel off one layer at a time, and sometimes you weep. Talk to the loved one who is deceased. It is important to listen to the response.
Reaction to loss transverses levels of human functioning: physical, emotional, cognitive, affective, spiritual, cultural and social process. It does not matter if the loss suffered is:
- Real or imagined
- Permanent or temporary
- Irreplaceable or replaceable
- Partial or total.
Indications it’s Time for Professional Help
- Lack of resiliency in adapting over time.
- Intense yearning for the deceased or loss suffered.
- Persistent intrusive thoughts or images associated with the loss, denial or avoidance of the death of loved one or places associated with the death or loss suffered.
- Unnatural attachments to objects that belong to the deceased or a substitute object or person.
- Questioning faith and religious beliefs.
- Suicidal ideation and thoughts of dying.
- Protracted lack of motivation and loss of interest in things normally enjoyed. Disconnecting with people and social events you enjoyed.
- Obsessive thoughts, overworking or exercising, increased alcohol intake or substance abuse.
- Anxiety attacks and emerging phobias.
The death or loss of someone you love and care about hurts very deeply, and the hurt lasts for a long time. The extraordinary circumstances of COVID-19 exacerbate the situation. If not well managed one is exposed to a complicated grief work. Honor your right to grieve and be courageous to seek professional help in a timely manner.
American Psychiatric Association (2013) Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Washington, DC.
Martin, J. D., and Ferris, F. D. (1992) I Can’t Stop Crying: It’s So Hard when Someone You Love Dies, Key Porter Books, Toronto.
Mastrangel, L.H., and Wood, J. (2016) Grief, Loss, and Bereavement retrieved from http://www.goodtherapy.org /learn-about-therapy/issues/grief on October 9, 2016; last updated 05/2016.
Smith, M., and Segal, J., Coping with Grief and Loss. Retrieved from http://www.helpguide.org/articles/grief-loss/coping-with-grief-and-loss.htm on October 2, 2016, last updated October, 2016.
Dr. Charles Muorah works at our Voorhees and Lawrenceville offices; he currently sees clients via online therapy. To set up an appointment, you can reach him at 215-382-6680 ext. 7033 or firstname.lastname@example.org.