In the last ten weeks of this global pandemic, the world has changed, and loss and grief have become surprisingly ubiquitous. People have lost jobs and businesses, children have lost their typical school days, proms, graduations, team sports, shopping outings, carefree vacations, wedding celebrations…all lost.
A favorite expert of mine on healing and loss, David Kessler, has said in several recent interviews that “we are all grieving the collective loss of the world as we knew it.” Of course, this is true. He also shared that “the worst loss is always your loss,” which I appreciate. It allows each person to name their grief experience and related feelings.
Many of us seem to be growing in our ability to practice ways to cope with these situations. We’re creating schedules complete with breaks, getting enough rest, avoiding drug and alcohol use, exercising, setting proper limits, focusing on things we can control. However, without comparing losses, a particularly complicated struggle I have seen recently is the struggle with grieving the loss of a loved one during this pandemic.
Whether loved ones have died from the coronavirus or some other illness, mourners share a common thread. They’re separated from each other, with severely disrupted mourning rituals, and an inability “to say goodbye.” There are no funeral services and often no burials to attend in person. These changes are staggering. Even those who claim to be less focused on rituals and traditions find themselves yearning for the mere physical presence of extended family. People realize that, without loved ones, they feel more isolated and perhaps even more confused in their grief.
Dr. Katherine Shear, the director of the Center for Complicated Grief at Columbia University, has shared for years that people generally have an innate ability to adapt to grief and loss in their lives. However, there are some situations where intense grief after a death does not decrease and does not allow the person to move forward in their life. It certainly seems possible that the somewhat broken grieving processes available to families in this age of COVID-19 and social distancing might lead to more situations of complicated grief.
The good news is, there are still many ways to grieve or support a grieving loved one at this very unusual time. I hope many try to embrace these ideas, even if they seem different or strange. They might be extremely helpful to those who need assistance moving through their grief over the loss of a loved one:
- Plan a virtual funeral and/or memorial. Use an electronic platform like Zoom or Facetime and ask family members to help if needed.
- Share photos, stories, music, religious ceremonies virtually. This can be done more than once and with more than one group of friends/family if it works for you.
- Share memories of the loved one. It can be private via mail or email if you prefer not to share on a virtual platform with a larger group.
- Don’t avoid your grief feelings. Find people who can listen to them, but understand that not everybody is comfortable. You can also journal if it’s better for you.
- Over time, discover ways to find a balance. The intense pain of grief needs to be equalized by having moments away from that pain. This is part of the process of learning to live with the loss.
- Make yourself available. Check-in on someone who is grieving, whether it’s by phone, text, or social media.
While everyone experiences grief differently, the act of saying goodbye remains as important as ever. Be open to non-traditional methods so you don’t deprive yourself of some potentially needed closure. You are not alone. It’s comforting to see the faces of loved ones and friends at this difficult time…even it’s over Zoom. Lastly, keep in mind that this way of mourning and connecting from a distance will not last forever. We will be able to hug and hold each other in sympathy again someday soon.