The impact of grief and loss during coronavirus is hitting us hard. Necessary as it is, the COVID-19 lockdown has led to a seemingly endless list of loss for people everywhere. With loss comes grief, the universal reaction to loss. While we all know from personal experience that grief and loss is painful and stressful, it is important to realise that it is also natural, normal and necessary. The more each of us can learn and understand about the natural process of grieving, the more we can support ourselves, families and friends during and beyond the coronavirus event.
Tragically, coronavirus has meant some have lost a family member or friend. Others have lost their job and all or part of their income. Most of us have lost some degree of financial security. Holiday and other travel plans have been postponed or cancelled. Workplaces, schools, unis and colleges have been disrupted. We have been unable to attend weddings, funerals, graduations and other significant social events. Even simple outings such as the movies, theatre, concerts or parties and casual coffees with colleagues or friends are lost. Even going on a date is out! For many the losses have now extended to unwanted changes in their physical and psychological health.
Grief is Normal, Natural & Necessary…
Human beings react to loss by grieving. ‘Grief’ describes our feelings and reactions when we lose someone we care about or something we value. Grief is not something we cure but something we process and move through. And it is important to realise that we will be different at the end of this processing.
Normal grief symptoms include lack of energy, digestive problems, weight gain or loss, inability to sleep or over-sleeping, illness, back pain, headaches, bad dreams and hallucinations. These and other symptoms are part of the natural, normal and necessary process of grieving, regardless of the type of loss we have experienced.
Five Types of Loss…
There are five types of losses and we have experienced team all with Covid-19!
1. ‘Material Loss’ is when we lose something material such as a house. In extreme cases, some people will have experienced this type of loss as a result of COVID-19.
2. ‘Relationship Loss’ occurs through a relationship breakdown, divorce or the death of a loved one, once again a possibility with COVID-19.
3. ‘Intrapsychic Loss’ is loss of a dream, such as wanting to be a pilot but finding you are colour blind. In the case of COVID-19, an intrapsychic loss would be not being able to go on a trip we’d been planning for months and really looking forward to.
4. ‘Functional Loss’ is experienced when we lose some physical ability. There’s a real sense that our society as a whole is experiencing functional loss as so many ‘normal’ routines are no longer possible – for businesses, institutions, groups, families and individuals.
5. ‘Role Loss’ occurs if we lose our role, for example we lose our job and can no longer provide for our family. For many people our roles have changed dramatically since lockdown.
The Grief and Loss During Coronavirus…
We usually experience losses one at a time. But during the coronavirus crisis, many of us are experiencing several types of loss at once. To make matters worse, our sense of loss is ‘ambiguous’ in the sense that we don’t fully understand when it will end. This kind of loss leaves a person searching for answers, and thus complicates and delays the process of grieving, and often results in unresolved grief. Finally, we are feeling loss on both a personal level and also on a global scale. The associated grief is going to change us as individuals and as a community.
The Normal Stages of Grieving…
It is helpful to understand – and to expect to experience – several stages in the grieving process. It is important to allow yourself to grieve. Unresolved grief does not go away but lies dormant, usually surfacing at the most unexpected times. Unresolved grief is ‘cumulative’ and reduces our ability to cope in future challenging situations. It’s useful to know about the following stages of grief and important to note that the process is cyclical rather than linear so you may move back and forth from one stage to another.
Stage 1 – Denial Denying our loss helps us to survive in the short term. During this stage, the world becomes meaningless and overwhelming. Life makes no sense. We are in a state of shock and denial. We go numb and wonder how we can go on, if we can go on, why we should go on. Simply getting through each day is the priority. During COVID-19, the people who insisted on going to Bondi Beach were demonstrating denial.
Stage 2 – Anger Anger is a necessary stage in the grieving process that helps us heal. During COVID-19, the protestors in the USA are demonstrating anger.
Stage 3 – Bargaining In this stage our reasoning goes something like this: ‘If I follow the rules, this will all go away’. During COVID-19, we know that many thousands of people have been extremely vigilant in following self-isolation rules.
Stage 4 – Depression We feel empty and sad as grief enters our lives on a deeper level. This stage feels as though it will last forever. It’s important to understand that this type of depression is not a sign of mental illness, but an appropriate response to great loss. We withdraw from life, left in a fog of intense sadness, wondering, perhaps, what’s the point of continuing?
Stage 5 – Acceptance Acceptance doesn’t mean feeling happy with the situation. This stage is about accepting the reality that we are experiencing. We will never like this reality but eventually we accept it. We learn to live with it. It becomes the new norm.
How to Honour Your Grief…
If you are experiencing grief and loss during coronavirus it’s important to honour that grief. Grieving is normal and it’s important to allow yourself to feel a range of emotions associated with denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Here are five more tips to help you manage. If you are feeling overwhelmed, it’s important to seek professional help.
- Bear witness and communicate Acknowledge how you are feeling, don’t bottle it up. Talk to others about how you are feeling.
- Express yourself Get your emotions out, give them a voice. Write, create art, dance or listen to music.
- Try Meditation/mindfulness A simple daily practice can help you relax and keep perspective. Try to relax and to lower your expectations of yourself and of others. Deep breathing can help you remember that we’re all in this together and it’s no-one’s fault. I use this app: Stop. Breathe. Think.
- Be open to joy Despite the limitations of your situation, there are sure to be positives. Look out for and focus on simple pleasures: your early morning cup of coffee, the dog’s delight at going outside, tucking your tired child into bed, getting lost in a great novel.
- Practice well balanced holistic care It has never been more important to care for yourself in all areas of your life. Eat well, exercise, keep in touch with the people you love, spend time on a simple hobby that gives you pleasure.
These are certainly unprecedented times and the grief and loss during coronavirus it is going to have an impact on us individually and as a society. Recognising and honouring the grief process will help us get through it the best way we can. For more tips “How to Manage Anxiety During The Coronavirus Crisis” you can read my blog here.