Coping With Grief in the Midst of COVID-19

We are living in very unusual and rare circumstances in which we are not only worried about succumbing to an illness that could take our life, or that of a loved one, but we're also facing stress from many spheres in our lives.

We may be dealing with existing health issues, taking care of someone who is chronically ill, or having to teach kids at home while trying to work from home. Sometimes we may feel like our cups runneth over, and not in a good way.

Most of us have experienced some type of loss during these unprecedented times. There is a myriad of losses for which we might be grieving. Anywhere from loss of a job to loss of a loved one. Others may be suffering from separation.

How do we grieve in these times?

First, grieving is a very personal experience and there is no one right or wrong way to express it. How we grieve depends on things like our beliefs, personality, culture, and coping mechanisms, as well as past life experiences and above all, the significance of the loss. One of the key components in helping us process grief is the face-to-face support of the people that care about us.

But these are not normal times, so we may be left alone to experience our grief without the touch of a caring friend. Does this mean we cannot have our support system with us? No, it simply means we must find other ways of accessing those supporters to lean on during difficult times.

Losing my dear friend

Recently, I lost a very dear and special person in my life who was not only a true Parkinson’s warrior but a great friend indeed. It was one of those unexpected sudden deaths which made my heart and those of his loved ones stop. This was just at the onset of the epidemic here in the US. I had just brought my daughter back from college. My husband had sat with the family all day until I was able to drive into town.

After sitting so many hours driving, I could only stay a short period of time with my friend. However, given my medical background, I knew my friend would not make it past another day. I told another friend I would go shower, rest a bit, and so should she, and we would meet up again at midnight and keep his vigil.

Normally, most intensive care units do not allow people to stay long hours but given the circumstances, an exception was made. The next morning, when national and state mandates began to take place about social distancing and limiting visitors to inpatients, my friend had already passed to a better world.

Could we have a funeral service?

My friend was uncertain about whether she could even have a funeral service. The verdict was no large gatherings so although there was a service, only a handful of people were able to attend. Everyone kept their distance and only the immediate family could attend the burial site. She was lucky. Many people who have lost loved ones have not been able to say goodbye causing a delay in closure for healing to begin.

The time immediately following the loss is important for the individual to process what has happened and alone time is often required or much needed. Due to social distancing laws, she was able to spend much introspective time alone but this also made it more difficult to be in a new home in lockdown without her life partner.

We as friends took turns cooking and dropping off meals for her and calling daily to check on her status. Sometimes the toughest times are facing the night alone.

3 tips for those who are grieving

  1. Consider talking to your doctor about a prescription drug for sleep or for anxiety.
  2. Have a designated friend who you can call in the middle of the night. I, being the night owl, had many talks with her in the wee hours of the morning.
  3. Use this quiet time of social distancing to begin the grieving process by crying, sleeping, shouting, jumping, pleading, blogging, binge-watching Netflix, not showering, not shaving, bargaining, and finally, learning to take care of yourself once more.

Funerals and memorial services

Think about a memorial service later, a celebration of life event. Since many people could not attend, we are planning a celebration of life party when this is all said and done, not only to honor his life but to raise funds for his favorite cause – Parkinson’s disease.

Similarly, those of you who have lost loved ones during this time can use alternate methods such as an online funeral service. However, before you pursue these methods think about the objective you are trying to achieve. Is it family and friends' support? Is it closure?

Finding closure

But what do we do if we can’t even have a funeral as in some parts of the country and the world where mass burials are taking place and families are not even allowed to say farewell? This inability to have closure can sometimes delay the grieving process.

But perhaps, in order to have closure, some of us who have experienced loss and are still waiting to claim a loved one’s body may need public acknowledgment of the deaths. This pandemic has brought many senseless deaths, not unlike those seen during times of war. So perhaps ritualizing a yearly service at a memorial site dedicated to the fallen may be a more meaningful way of achieving closure and finding a purpose to the loss by connecting to a larger community.

However, you choose to grieve make sure you are moving forward, taking care of yourself, and connecting to others without forgetting about the professionals who are there to help such as doctors, counselors, and religious leaders.

 

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