As I write this blog post, we are nearing the milestone of 500,000 deaths in the U.S. and 2.5 million worldwide. In the U.S. we are also nearing the one-year anniversary of that week in March where the realities of the pandemic set-in and everything changed.
We are all caught up in a web of loss. Within the last year, it’s likely you have experienced one or more of the following:
- The loss of someone due to COVID-19.
- A loss due to any circumstance and COVID-19 restrictions that impacted how you were able to "say goodbye" or gather to mourn.
- The vicarious grief that comes from repeatedly viewing stories and statistics of loss in the news.
At the same time, many of us have been functioning in a chronic state of stress. When our brains perceive a threat, in this case a transmittable virus, it can put us in a heightened, “fight, flight, or freeze” response. Even things once seemingly as mundane as grocery shopping now come with a certain level of risk. Some families can't even find reprieve inside their own homes if someone is considered "high risk" due to health, age, or occupation.
Also, at the same time, we’ve had less access to the protective factors that buffer stress and help to "keep us going”. These are our visits to the gym, yoga class, religious service, sporting events, brunch with friends, travel; any hobby or activity that you found yourself looking forward to and reassured by on particularly hard days.
The scale is greatly imbalanced. On one side we are weighed down with more stresses than ever. The other side is higher, lighter than ever with less access to protective factors to help us cope. So where then do we find the energy to grieve our losses? I hope reading this helps to recognize and validate the enormity of what you are coping with.
There is no timeline for grief under “normal” circumstances, let alone a pandemic. Although vaccines give us hope for the future, the unfortunate truth is that we are still "in it" and we still continue to face loss. On a good day you can't rush grief. This is more of a marathon than a sprint, in a race you did not choose. I've never ran a marathon but I imagine it is exhausting. As someone who is also grieving a loss during this pandemic time, I can attest that the metaphor is apt.
When grieving we may experience things like tearfulness, anger, irritability, despondency, fatigue or brain fog. No two losses are the same and no two grief responses are the same. Some of us may be exhausted by grief. Others may feel numb to it. Others may be trying their hardest to avoid it. Offer yourself compassion for whichever state you find yourself in at this time.
I’ve heard the comparison of the act of avoiding or “pushing down” emotions, to that of holding a beach ball under water. As you picture this, you can imagine the energy it takes to hold the ball below. We know that in time, the ball will eventually pop-up. But to react and respond to the ball shooting out of the water also takes emotional energy. Some of us may be exhausted by holding that ball below and are ready to release. Some of us may feel like we won't have the energy or bandwidth to respond when the ball escapes from the water. My hope is that everyone, in their own time, will have the right support and resources to release and process the feelings that emerge.
I've been on the receiving end of a finish line of a marathon race, so I'm going to continue the metaphor to give hope that with time and the right support, there is the possibility for a type of "finish line" to cross over: what is termed Post-Traumatic Growth after trauma or loss. The areas of Post-Traumatic Growth include:
- Greater appreciation of life
- Greater appreciation and strengthening of close relationships
- Increased compassion and altruism
- The identification of new possibilities or a purpose in life
- Greater awareness and utilization of personal strengths
- Enhanced spiritual development
- Creative growth
This growth does not mean that you no longer feel the loss. These bullet points, I hope, represent possibility and future amongst a time that can often feel hopeless. But again, it's a marathon not a sprint to get there.
If you are ready and wanting to seek grief support, here below are resources for both adults, children and teens that I hope will be helpful. If you’re not ready to go there, that is ok, I hope you can save these for another time.
- David Kessler, an expert on grief, has a private Facebook group for anyone who has experienced a death during the pandemic.
- This article, written by a member and founding Director at the Columbia University Center for Complicated Grief describes factors that both help and interfere with our grief processes.
- Apps like InsightTimer have guided meditations on the topic of grief. These free meditations from Ten Percent Happier address difficult emotions related to COVID-19, including grief. During this time of increased isolation we can spend a lot of time in our own head. Sometimes it’s nice to have a different, reassuring voice to listen to.
- At this time therapists are offering virtual appointments. Work/Life helps employees get connected to therapists. If you are searching on your own, it can help to look at sites like psychologytoday.com or the provider search on your insurance company’s website. You may also want to search online for local hospice providers which typically have a community bereavement program.
Children and Teens:
- This toolkit: Funerals In the Time of a Pandemic from the Good-Grief Network provides ideas of memorials and activities that can be safely done with children during the time of a pandemic. It also provides tips for talking to a child about death and providing support as they grieve.
- Apart of Me is a first ever app based game designed by grief experts for children/teens coping with the death of a loved one.
- Your Life Your Voice has a webpage full of resources for teens to find outlets for processing emotions related to COVID-19.
- You may have heard of Story Corp on the radio. With the app anyone can record their grief stories or stories about a loved one who has died.