Coping With Grief During A Pandemic
Grief is a simple word used to sum up a not so simple experience. It is as unique as the individual experiencing it.
Dealing with the emotions and stress that come with loss can be the most trying thing we ever experience. Grieving is often referred to as a process, but what that process looks like and how long it takes, especially amid a global pandemic, does not have a straightforward outline.
To deal with our grief, we must first know that grief is normal, even when circumstances are not.
“Grieving is a highly individual experience. There is no right or wrong way to grieve. The grieving process takes time, and healing is gradual. There is no ‘normal’ timetable for grieving.”
Our very own Karen Kern, Vice President of Education and Training, provides some insight into the question ‘what should I be feeling?’
“Grief is a natural response to loss. Many people initially experience numbness, but denial, disbelief, confusion, shock, sadness, anger, despair and guilt are the wide range of feelings you may experience. It is important to know these feelings are normal and common reactions to loss.”
Knowing that things like anger and confusion are acceptable reactions to what has happened can change how we process them. We can find comfort in gaining an understanding of our own emotions or helping others process their grief.
What else might we feel? Karen references Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’ five stages of grief:
- DENIAL: “This can’t be happening to me.”
- ANGER: “Why is this happening? Who is to blame?”
- BARGAINING: “Make this not happen, and in return I will _____.”
- DEPRESSION:. “I’m too sad to do anything.”
- ACCEPTANCE:. “I’m at peace with what happened.”
But, she notes that “not everyone who grieves goes through all of these stages and that’s okay. Contrary to popular belief, you do not have to go through each stage to heal. Some people start to feel better in weeks or months. For others, the grieving process is measured in years.”
The main thing to remember is that your feelings are your own. The shape your grief takes may not look like someone else’s, but that doesn’t mean it is unhealthy. Likewise, just because you are managing doesn’t mean you don’t need an outlet for your grief.
Now, more than ever, it is important to reach out. The comfort that comes from drawing in your family and friends to remember, to memorialize, and to support may be absent in person but there are things you can do to honor your loved one and receive much needed encouragement.
Some funeral homes have started implementing virtual services for extended friends and family. For you, this may just be one way you find comfort while remaining at a distance.
Saying ‘goodbye’ often seems impossible, but remembering a life lived can bring a spot of joy into the sadness. Creating a Facebook Memorial Page is a good way to start the journey of remembering. You can look at pictures, share your favorite memories, and start discussions that you can look back on whenever you may need to.
Mourning in isolation adds a layer to our grief that can be challenging, so how do we manage it? “Allow yourself to grieve,” says Karen, “Coping with death is vital to your mental health.” Much of what we will feel is the same, maybe intensified, but the same.
Here are some of Karen’s recommendations on how to cope in isolation:
- Talk to relatives and friends who understand your feelings of loss. Talking about how you are feeling to others can help you work through the grieving process.
- Join an online support group with others experiencing loss.
- Take care of your health by eating well, getting ample rest, and if possible, spend time outdoors walking or simply observing your surroundings.
- Draw comfort from your faith by praying, mediating, or attending online religious services.
- Write about your loss in a journal.
- Make a scrapbook or photo album celebrating your loved one.
- Try to maintain your hobbies and interests. There is comfort in keeping a routine.
Even with all these tools, grief can often become unmanageable, by no fault of your own. What you are feeling with a loss is intense. If you find yourself unable to process, you may start to suffer from chronic fatigue, depression, or severe anxiety. It is important to acknowledge and address these reactions to your grief.
Karen points out that “if the pain of your loss is so constant and severe that it keeps you stuck in an intense state of mourning, you may be experiencing complicated grief or clinical depression. When this occurs, it is important to seek professional help for your grief.”
If you have found it difficult to cope with a recent loss, whether it be a loved one you deeply cared for or the loss of a livelihood due to COVID-19, we can help. Learn more about Penn Foundation’s counseling services or reach out to us directly. For the safety of our clients and staff, we are providing our services through telehealth. New and existing clients can make an appointment now by calling us at 215-257-6551.