Grief During Covid-19

By Laura Ward

Grief is defined as a normal and natural response to loss.  At Hospicare, we provide bereavement support to those who are grieving the death of a loved one.  However, based on the current circumstances, we feel that it’s important to expand our discussion of grief to include the many different types of losses that people are experiencing right now as part of this pandemic

These could be major such as that of a job or financial means.  As a community, we are curtailing our social contacts due to the need for social distance.  This loss of physical connection with our loved ones is extremely difficult.  Gone are the simple social pleasures of meeting a friend or friends for dinner, coffee, a walk or at the dog park.  Social gatherings such as book club, game night, choir practice, group exercise classes and BBQ’s are off limits.  The theater, bowling alley and churches are all closed.  The wedding, trip, or family reunion we had planned has been cancelled.  Our children are grieving the loss of their social network, educational system, sports team, extracurricular activities and even that recital, performance, or big game that they had been working towards.  Our regular routine is disrupted, many of us are no longer able to head to work as usual and those who are working for essential businesses now must cope with added fear and risk.  The uncertainty of this time and the risk of illness brings its own anxiety and adds to our stress. 

Grief impacts us on many levels.  Physically, you might notice changes in sleep or appetite, fatigue, restlessness, headaches, body aches or episodes of crying or feeling numb.  Grief can be a roller coaster of emotions and these emotions can change quickly.  We might feel anxious, sad, angry, fearful, or more irritable.  Grief can feel like a heaviness we carry both physically and emotionally.  On a cognitive level, we might have difficulty concentrating (which can make working from home even more challenging), be indecisive, find ourselves preoccupied with worries, experience a sense of unreality or denial.  We might experience behavioral changes and find ourselves inpatient, forgetful, or looking for unhealthy ways to cope through overeating, too much screen time or numbing ourselves with drugs or alcohol.  Socially, we need more support when we are grieving, and these current circumstances can make it especially difficult to meet that need.  Some people isolate more during grief and lack the motivation and energy to make the extra effort needed to connect.   Spiritually, we might find ourselves searching for meaning or comfort during this time.  Some people find comfort in their faith or prayers, and others have spoken about the positive environmental impact.  For example, dolphins have been spotted for the first time in the canals of Venice and air quality has improved in China. It’s important to recognize how these grief reactions can impact our current functioning.  Our usual means of coping may also have changed whether it be our habits or reaching out socially, going to the gym or attending an art class.  We may need to explore how to recreate, expand and implement, new ways of coping during this pandemic to maintain our emotional and physical health. 

The experience of grief can also be both individual and unique.  It can be difficult when the people in your life are struggling with this current situation and the associated losses, but are expressing that struggle in very different ways.  One might assume that since we are all in this together, that we would be feeling similar ways.  Yet, our expressions of our grief may look so dissimilar that instead of feeling supported, we can be left feeling more alone.  Perhaps you are feeling sad and someone else is responding with complete denial or is minimizing the seriousness of the situation.  Or you might receive messages from other friends to “think positive” or “see the bigger picture” or laments about “silver linings.”  Neither one of you is wrong in how you are coping with the situation, but you may simply not be on the same page at the same time with the people in your life.  This can create tension, and leave people feeling more alone and without the comforting validation they would normally receive in these relationships.  Remember, that even though we might not understand another person’s emotional or mental response to this crisis, even if our own grief looks different, we are all grieving.  The greatest kindness we can offer is to support each other, and in order to do that we must suspend our judgements to allow for the range of emotions that those around us are experiencing.  More than ever, we need to take care of each other during this time and accept both our own and others experience with an open heart.  Check in frequently with the people in your life and with the people in your home.   

When we are overwhelmed with difficult emotions, it can be helpful to lean in, allowing yourself to move through the emotions that are rising.  Know that all emotions pass, change and evolve.  It’s important to make time to feel, and it can be helpful to set aside time just for this purpose.  Some people might find that journaling, meditating, or talking it through with a trusted friend to be a safe way to achieve this.  It’s important to allow our feelings to be expressed or we run the risk of the feelings building up which can negatively impact our health or overall functioning.  Sometimes we might realize that our worries or fears are dominating our mind.  If you feel like you’re in a rut with these thoughts rather than moving through, it can be helpful to disrupt this process by deep breathing, stepping outside or distracting ourselves.  Other ways to cope include creating a new routine, getting outside, trying something new, discovering joy in the moment, exploring new ways to connect, and getting in touch with gratitude.  Creating a new routine can be a source of comfort when we have lost our usual way of life.  A new routine can mean setting a regular time for waking, bedtime and healthy, balanced meals.  Getting dressed and ready for the day.  Introducing daily time to be outdoors, take a walk or even just sit on the porch.  If you are working from home, start and end at regular times and step away from screens for some portion of each day.  Connect with family by spending time together at home or through electronic means.  For instance, play games together online with a friend or set up a virtual coffee date.  Take time and space for yourself through a solitary walk, reading a book or putting together a puzzle.  Find joy in starting a new hobby or enjoying an old one.  Practice gratitude each day and when all else fails, extend kindness and compassion to yourself, this is a difficult time.