The usual rituals and ceremonies of funerals, memorials, and gatherings provide something to hold on to when we are experiencing grief and loss. These shared experiences and connections with others hold a healing power.
But now, those rituals and ceremonies are denied to us because of the necessity for physical distancing to beat COVID-19. We can’t even visit our loved ones in hospital, to hold their hands and infuse them with our loving presence. How do we deal with grief and loss during this pandemic?
Here are Ten Tips for Dealing with Grief and Loss During COVID-19:
Recognize that your feelings are normal.
What you feel is ambiguous loss, which occurs when there is uncertainty or no clear markers for the loss. It can happen in two ways: when a person is physically present but psychologically absent, as in dementia, or when they are physically absent yet emotionally present, as in the case of missing persons – or being separated from persons who are absent in hospital or deceased. It is normal to find the uncertainty of ambiguous loss difficult.
Grief and sadness are not signs of weakness. They are reflections of how valued this relationship is to you. The message they carry is that this is a relationship and a person whose presence in your life is to be remembered and honoured. Be kind to yourself right now and give yourself permission to have feelings. Avoid focusing on what you think you “should” feel. And remember, grief doesn’t have a set timeline – it will come and go differently for everyone.
Be kind to yourself right now and give yourself permission to have feelings. Avoid focusing on what you think you “should” feel.
Look after your physical needs.
Ensure that you eat well, sleep, and get whatever exercise you can while physically distancing. Avoid turning to junk food, caffeine, alcohol, or drugs to get through the day. Also avoid the temptation to spend all day sitting around in your pajamas, which will lead you to feel more fatigued (and probably contribute to more snacking!). Move as much as you can within the confines of your home, even if that is just regularly getting up and stretching. Maintain a routine of getting up and going to bed at the same time, getting dressed, having three meals a day, etc.
Make space in your day for grief.
Recognizing and sitting with your grief is important. Take some time in your day to acknowledge how you are feeling – perhaps a half-hour in the evening to look at photos or play a favourite song that reminds you of the person. Making deliberate time for grieving can enable you to release it and prevent it from building up.
Make space in your day for comfort.
Set aside time for something that is comforting to you each day. A cup of tea, a yoga routine, a hot bath – anything that you find soothing. Allow some fun or silly times as they are also part of honouring the joy that your loved one has brought you.
Create messages for your loved one in hospital.
Hospital visitation is not being allowed at present, but you can still “speak” to the person you are missing. Write them letters, record messages, or just set aside some time to have a conversation in your thoughts. If possible, find a way to stand outside their hospital window and wave to them. They may not hear what you are saying now, but it will still help if you say it.
Although you can’t gather for funerals right now, you can hold a ceremony within your household or coordinate it with others.
Create a new ceremony or ritual of remembrance.
These are powerful actions that can aid with healing after a loss. Although you can’t gather for funerals right now, you can hold a ceremony within your household or coordinate it with others. For instance, perhaps each household lights a candle and tells a story about the person you have all lost. Everyone can record their story and share it with everyone else. Or perhaps you will all video chat and share memories together. If you are alone, holding your own private remembrance can be important.
Create a memorial.
Put together a memory box, collage, or music or video playlist. Or paint, compose a song, or write a storybook – anything that honours the memory of the person. Engage children in creating something that incorporates their best memories of the person. You can plan to use what you have created as the centrepiece of a memorial ceremony to be held now, or when physical distancing restrictions have been lifted. For instance, if you usually plant a flower garden, plan how you will devote a part of it to your loved one’s memory.
Use your supports.
The requirement to physically distance can increase the risk of being socially isolated. Reach out to supportive friends and family by phone or video chat. Hearing their voices and seeing their faces will provide a stronger sense of connection than email or texting. Remember that professional and spiritual supports are still available. Many therapists and doctors are still providing online consultation and counselling.
Also be a support to children and teens. Check in with younger family members and those that may be more vulnerable. What is their understanding of what has happened? How are they experiencing their own grief and loss? Assist them to follow all of the above tips. Kids Help Phone provides help via texting or phone for people of all ages in Canada and the United States.
If faith is an important part of your life, rely on that now. For those who do not follow a particular faith or spirituality, it is still important to make meaning of these experiences. You might look for meaning in the life you shared with this person. What are the greatest gifts that relationship has given you? What are ways that you can honour the person and carry those gifts forward? This could be anything from wearing a ring they gave you, to supporting a cause that was important to them.
The separation imposed by COVID-19 requirements is especially difficult when someone you love is seriously ill or dies. Comfort and healing can still be found by connecting with others in new ways and honouring your relationship with the person you have lost.
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