Grief During the Pandemic

Thursday, June 25, 2020 @ 7:18 PM

When people hear the word “grief,” most often their minds go to the loss of a loved one. But really, grieving happens anytime there is the loss of something, not just when there is the loss of someone.

Consider the COVID-19 pandemic. Since early this year people have entered in a “collective grieving” of sorts, due to the extreme changes in our daily routines. Many of us have lost even more than one thing during this time, such as:

• loss of a job
• loss of normalcy and routine
• loss of a sense of stability or safety
• loss of a graduation or celebration
• loss of a loved one

Grieving over any of these situations is real and completely valid, and yet the journey through grief is often messy with many twists and turns.

The Grieving Process

Elizabeth Kubler-Ross first articulated in her book “On Death and Dying” published in 1969, that there are five stages of grief, though other studies and researchers have added to the stages in the decades since her book was first published. Those original five stages are:

1. anger
2. denial
3. depression
4. bargaining
5. acceptance

It would be reassuring, in a strange way, if we could depend on our grief journey to take us through these stages in order, maybe only spending a day or week in each stage. But the thing about grief is that it is not linear and there is no set timetable. And grieving during a pandemic is no different.

In Dr. David Feldman’s article from Psychology Today, he shares this sentiment:

The unfortunate side effect of our society’s erroneous but firm belief in the five stages is that many people wind up criticizing themselves for “not doing grief right.” When people buy into the idea that there’s only one healthy way to grieve, then it’s easy for them to attack themselves when they naturally find that they're doing it differently. This kind of self-criticism never helps anyone.

I often have to remind clients of this truth. One might revisit certain stages more than once or skip some altogether. The important thing is to be patient with yourself, give yourself some grace, a truth even more important if you have had to endure grief and loss during a pandemic like COVID-19.

When it comes to the loss of a loved one this has also been a major change during this pandemic. Under normal circumstances, family and friends might have had an opportunity to say goodbye and support their loved one in their final days, sharing memories, hugs, and the simple ministry of presence. Not so with COVID-19. Only one or two family members may have been allowed to sit with their dying loved one and extreme cases, maybe no one was allowed in (I have heard of families sitting in their cars in hospital parking lots because it’s how they have felt closest to their loved one in the hospital). The usual support network to help with funeral decisions and tending to paperwork and belongings has shrunk as friends and family members may have restrictions on travel or their own health.

Countless families across the globe have come to realize that this difficult process has been made all the more difficult with the pandemic.

Ways to Remember a Loved One

If you have lost a loved one during this time, first let me say I am so sorry for your loss. I know it has not been easy. But even in the midst of quarantine, it is still important to set aside a time or way to remember them, even if you have to embrace non-traditional ways.

Gather some friends or family members and talk through how you can still remember and honor your loved one. The ideas below can be a starting point for you.

1. Set aside a specific time to remember them, even if it’s not a traditional funeral or graveside service.
2. Include others in the remembering. Even if in-person gatherings have to wait, it will be meaningful to include other family members or friends. Perhaps you can record or write down the funny stories or quotes that loved ones shared.
3. Allow yourself to enjoy the things they once did. Can you cook a favorite meal, read a treasured book or poem they loved, or set out quilts they made?
4. Use your creativity to fuel your remembering. Could you incorporate some pictures, a favorite quote, or some small keepsake into a collage or shadow box? Perhaps you could make a pillow out of an old shirt or quilt from their clothing or other linens.

Whatever you choose, these touchstones are helpful in expressing your loss, but also honoring the memory of your loved one, even during a pandemic.

I specialize in Grief Recovery, so if you are struggling to process a loss, please call me and let me walk this journey with you.
Written by Treneé Tunick, LCSW