Permission to Grieve is Granted
This pandemic has stirred up many emotions from hope in seeing our healthcare and essential workers on the front line, to despair for the deaths and rising cases, to fear over loss of employment, to anxiety for handling the daily updates and home situation, to an even more prevalent one – grief.
During the pandemic, I wholeheartedly believe and affirm that grief is a natural emotion people are feeling for various reasons and one that is justified. Right now, the grief I am seeing in my therapy patients ranges from disappointment and sadness to frustration and anger. People are disappointed by having to reschedule events like weddings, sad about not being able to see family members, frustrated by losing out on once-in-a lifetime events, and angry from the lack of control and unfairness of it all.
The biggest grief reactions I am witnessing are connected to the loss of major events, particularly funerals because of the inability for family members to give their loved one the proper goodbye they wanted. While you can hold a memorial at a later date, there are no do-overs for a funeral.
Weddings are a big loss because of the amount of time and money and energy that go into planning such a large-scale event, but weddings too can be rescheduled or dramatically scaled down and still held.
Proms are once in a lifetime events that seniors lost this year, in addition to the even more important graduation. College graduates were denied a graduation ceremony as well. These are to be held up as celebrated milestones that both parents and the children have craved in anticipation for decades.
These are all things that cannot be made up and are events that will now never happen. Trips that people have planned for years were just cancelled with no reschedule dates available. Women gave birth and cared for newborns with no supportive family members there to lend support. There is a profound sense of sadness in a loss where there can be no do-over, no make-up, no second chance.
I do believe people should be grieving right now. There are so many complex losses, and most people are grieving the loss of more than one thing. Meaningful and important life events have been lost, but also lost are a sense of normalcy, the freedom to go out as before, the ability to engage in leisure activities like sports and shopping and dining out. There have been losses in how people work, losses of education and the traditional school year, losses of time and energy as people struggled to home school their children while simultaneously trying to maintain work commitments all while learning the ropes of working from home.
5 tips for people to cope with grief during the pandemic:
People can be encouraged to remember that grief is not a linear process and has no timeline. They may feel they have moved beyond the pain of a loss only to discover difficult emotions coming up again in the future. That’s normal and to be expected so people need to make room for that.
People should be encouraged to talk about their experiences. Find supportive people who can listen with empathy and can validate the losses and the feelings behind them.
People should spend the time they need to emotionally process through the details of the loss. Be sure to take care to really grieve each part of what is now gone. Engaging in activities like journaling and self-reflection are ways people can move toward the resolution of grief
People should look for ways to turn the situation around the best they can to their favor. Finding new and meaningful ways to memorialize a loved one who has passed or celebrating a graduation or birth in a novel and special way can help smooth over the rough edges of grief left behind after a loss.
People should consider helping others who are struggling with loss as a mean to help them through their own feelings. Helping others is a great strategy for moving toward healing as it takes us out of our own situation temporarily.
People are afraid to be hopeful and are even bracing for another wave of disappointments. To prepare for these inevitable experiences of grieving, we should try to see how our feelings of irritability, anger and frustration can actually be a cover to mask the deeper sadness and worry we have all been collectively experiencing. Being purposeful in searching our own emotions regarding loss can help us better prepare for losses we will encounter in the future.
Coming to an understanding that no one is immune to loss can be helpful, as it can help build resiliency.
Many people are feeling like they can’t take one more thing, or one more let down, but ultimately we all are more resilient than we think and we can actually handle a lot. We are not used to living like this as we have lived in a really great time in history. We haven’t had a Great Depression or multiple pandemics, or diseases like polio or a major World War. This has been really hard for all of us. It is our “first rodeo,” but with the support of family, friends (and therapists), we can and will get through this. If we can try to choose a positive attitude, we will teach ourselves and children a great lesson in resilience.
Developing or honing coping skills that serve to regulate us when upset is a way to be better prepared for future emotional distress. Also, creating or re-enforcing a strong and supportive emotional support system is a great way to brace ourselves for tough times ahead of us.