Processing the death of a loved one is difficult no matter the circumstances. However, there are real reasons why grieving can be harder now due to the Covid-19 pandemic:
While grieving has additional challenges right now, there are reasons to be hopeful and steps you can take to help you grieve and manage the wide range of changes in your life.
The pain of loving and losing is universal and normal. Grief can often feel like waves washing over you. Sometimes these waves happen gradually with meaningful reminders of our loved one who died, or they can happen suddenly and unexpectedly. If we try to fight these waves, grief will always find a way to keep showing up. Conversely, if we try to hold onto them grief can keep us from moving forward with life. To grieve well, we must allow ourselves to feel the pain of loving and losing, but also must learn to let it go when we’re ready.
Research has demonstrated repeatedly that telling the story of how your loved one died can be healing. This might seem counter-intuitive when the thought of sharing this story seems so painful. However, telling their story jump-starts what Dr. Dan Gilbert calls your “psychological immune system.” You can share this story with one of your Listeners (see below), a support group, or even write it down.
Rituals of living and dying help us emotionally, psychologically, socially, and spiritually. These rituals are being put on hold or canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic, and consequently we’re missing out on a critical stepping stone in our adjustment to loss. However, creating new rituals is still possible and more practical than you might realize. This can be as simple as lighting a remembrance candle or creating a memorial in your home by placing an important photo and memento in a special place. These rituals do not need to be elaborate to be helpful.
Divide the people in your life into three categories: 1) Those who Listen; 2) Those who Do; 3) Those who provide Respite. You can write them down or just think about who fits in which category. Your Listeners are those people in your life who listen well and can attend to your pain in a caring way. Your Doers are those who will do anything for you – any favor, errand, or task that you need. Your Respite folks are those who you can laugh with and take a break with. When we really think about it, we need all three of these kinds of people. The hard part is using them well. You don’t want to call a Respite person when you need a Listener and you don’t call a Listener when you need a Doer.
A question we often hear is “What do I do with the love I still feel in my heart?” We’ve learned that while death means our loved ones are no longer physically here, the love that we feel for them continues to live in our hearts. While we might talk about life-closure, we no longer talk about relationship-closure. Instead, we might say that closure is for bank accounts, not for love accounts. Learning how to maintain an enduring sense of connection with our deceased loved one is often a necessary step on the path toward healing.
It can be hard to talk about hope when we’re experiencing so much pain. One thing we know is while grief doesn’t always go away it will become more manageable with time. In time and with good self-care, we grow to find new meaning, purpose, acceptance, peace, and growth.