There’s never a good time to lose a loved one, be it two legged or four. However, during a crisis like what we’re dealing with right now, it’s especially difficult.
I lost one of my cousins suddenly last week to a brain aneurysm. It killed him instantly. Not only did I not know where to put this on an emotional level; I couldn’t fly out to Knoxville to be with my family.
So many have had to deal with a terrible loss and grieve a loved one while in quarantine. There is nothing that can make you feel even more isolated and alone than not being able to surround yourself with friends and family when you’ve suffered this kind of loss. The disconnect can almost be unbearable.
Bereavement is stressful and painful even in normal circumstances. It is now compounded with fear, anxiety and uncertainty, which only magnifies the sense of loss and isolation.
On the flip side, the cruel hallmark of this pandemic is those who are suffering from anything- be it COVID-19, a tragic accident, or a terminal illness- often have to go through whatever they’re going through alone. Because of social distancing measures and hospital regulations that prohibit visitors, patients are cut off from those they need the most at that very emotional time- family, friends, and even their religious leaders or counselors.
A dear friend of mine lost her mother at the end of March, soon after we were given the shelter in place orders. “I think my mom passed so quickly because she was so isolated. We couldn’t see her. It took away her strength to fight,” she said.
Not only can we not gather at a loved one’s bedside as a family and say goodbye, have meaningful conversations, affirm the bond, or make amends — things that help us cope with the loss - we can’t even practice our personal rituals for honoring their life such as funerals, visitations, or religious rituals like Shiva.
“When people aren’t physically present to say goodbye and grieve with other mourners, they may be more likely to experience a sense of ambiguous loss. With an ambiguous loss, it’s very hard to get closure. There’s often a lot of frustration and helplessness, because people feel disempowered,” said Sherry Cormier, PhD, a psychologist retired from private practice who now focuses on grief training and mentoring.
So how do you cope with tremendous loss during this time? Here are some coping strategies from Dr. Jason Spendelow, Ph.D., a clinical and coaching psychologist to help support your well-being while grieving during the pandemic (taken from an article on PsychologyToday.com) :
- Acknowledge that grieving at this time is more challenging than coping with loss outside a health crisis. You have additional sources of stress to contend with, so you must practice self-compassion. Signs of self-criticism might come in the form of beliefs like “I should be doing better than this” or “I am failing to keep it together.” Failing to acknowledge the additional stress associated with the pandemic runs the risk of blaming yourself for something that is out of your control.
- Staying connected to others is very important if you are grieving AND socially isolated. Often we don’t feel like talking to others after losing a loved one. If you lack this motivation, try to book times for phone calls and video chats. Arrange these conversations as appointments you must keep. Agree on times with people in advance so you are more likely to follow through.
- Alternate between “loss” and “restorative” activities. This idea comes from the dual-process approach to grief which says that people move been loss-related activities (e.g., looking at photos of the deceased, crying, talking about the person) and restorative exercises (e.g., making plans for the future, spending time on hobbies).
- Consider minimizing the time you spend watching the news. It is sensible to be aware of major announcements by government and health officials. Outside of that, don’t watch the news if it increases your stress levels.
You might find it useful to think about how your lost loved one would like you to respond in these circumstances. You can use this exercise to help generate coping strategies.
Also, consider hosting a virtual celebration of life with your loved ones. Reminisce, share photos and memories of the person or pet you’ve lost. Stay connected. If the grief is too much to bear, then reach out to a grief counselor or clinical therapist. It is vitally important to not go through this alone.
Everyone is living under incredibly difficult circumstances right now. Our lives have been turned upside down in so many ways. Having a strategy to deal with loss and grief is essential during this very complicated and confusing time.
As always, I’m here if you need to talk. Please stay safe and well.