UNDERSTANDING GRIEF AND THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC

Aug 4, 2020

Adapted with additions from  www.verywellmind.com/understanding-grief-in-the-age-of-the-covid-19-pandemic-4801931

“Grief is a normal response to loss.  Even if you have not yet experienced a direct loss, don’t assume that what you are feeling is not grief.   Give yourself permission to mourn and treat yourself and others with kindness during this difficult time.“

The global coronavirus pandemic has created a new reality on a global scale.  It is marked by loss and resultant grief expressed in feelings of sadness and a process of mourning.  Many events weddings, concerts, travel and holiday plans have had to be cancelled.  Disruption of our normal routine and pattern of daily life contribute to the sense of loss, unease, sadness, anxiety and even depression.

Loss and grief are experienced differently be each individual person but also by different family members depending on the relationships: spouses, parents, grandparents and children, siblings and carers.    An increase in family violence at this time is a strong indication that members are not coping well with the various stressors and psychological support is important, even necessary. 

ANY TYPE OF LOSS CAN TRIGGER GRIEF.    Grief is associated with death, but it can follow any type of loss.  As a result the COVID-19 pandemic grief can be triggered by the following:

  • Death of a family member, friend of colleague
  • Job loss
  • Financial anxiety, worries about food security and paying bills,  
  • Loss of safety
  • Worry about loved ones, possibly after admission to hospital
  • Social distancing, quarantine and feelings of isolation
  • Changes in daily habits and routines
  • Special plans and events that have been canceled
  • Clashes with family members over behaviour and how to protect yourself
  • Sadness over how the pandemic will affect the world
  • Fears for the future

Anticipatory grief can be short-term or long-term with worry, anxiety and fear over what will happen, especially death. It can involve feelings of isolation and loneliness.  

Unexpected death normally makes us turn to others, friends and family for support, to cry, share memories and offer care and support.  Traditions provide comfort.  However, Covid-19 complicates the very real and natural emotions and experiences.   

Build family resilience and encourage all family members, old and young to express their concerns and feelings including the possibility of infection, serious illness and death. Discuss plans and necessary arrangements as appropriate to avoid loss of control.     

EXPECTED EXPERIENCES IF YOU HAVE LOST A LOVED ONE :

  • Feelings of Guilt.   Regret at not being there to support, yet recognizing the unavoidable.  
  • Lack of Closure.  There is no time to  say goodbye because of the contagious illness and social distancing at the  time of death, no vising family who may be in quarantine or attending the funeral.  This can lead to an inability to accept the reality.   
  • Loss of Traditions.  Whatever one’s religious background or beliefs rituals and traditions cannot be observed and cannot offer the emotional support associated with them.
  • Feelings of Isolation.  Grief can be isolating under normal circumstances. Social distancing  makes it more so.            the process more isolating.   
  • Loss of control.  Sudden and unexpected loss of control can bring feelings of anxiety and fear and even anger. One cannot offer comfort or be comforted by others.
Stations of the Cross for the Bereaved

GRIEVING IS A PROCESS.   Reseachers have identified stages or phases that can recur and be repeated.  They include SHOCK, NUMBNESS, ANGER, ANXIETY, SADNESS, MOURNING and finally ACCEPTANCE and HEALING.  Remember that grief is a normal reaction to loss of any kind and will differ in degree of intensity.  Death is the greatest stressor. 

SIGNS OF GRIEF.    The following signs are normal in the course of the process and can be physical or mental.  

  • Trouble focusing on normal tasks
  • Sleeping much more or less than usual
  • Feelings of anger and irritability
  • Avoiding company and wanting to be alone
  • Headaches and upset stomach
  • Fatigue or low energy
  • Re-experiencing feelings of past grief
  • Engaging in activities such as eating, drinking, or online shopping to cope with anxiety
  • Avoiding thinking or talking about the pandemic
  • Weight loss.

WAYS TO COPE.    As one becomes aware of the process decisions can be made about how to cope.   

  • Practice self-care.  . Eat well, stay hydrated, rest, be easy on yourself.  At the same time keep active, exercise.  
  • Give yourself time to integrate the reality at your own pace.   The process takes time,  acceptance takes time. Acknowledge that your loved one is no longer physically present, allow yourself to dwell on memories, joy and love.  
  • Remember your feelings are valid and change.   Allow yourself to experience the negative feelings of shock, disbelief, denial, numbness, anger, regret, sadness, depression. Understand the sense of unreality especially if one is not present at the death.   Allow and do not feel guilty about positive feelings of joy or happy memories  that surface too.
  • Remind yourself grief is personal and different for everyone and every situation.
  • Understand that life has changed and will never be the same.  Pick up a favourite hobby.
  • Care for others.   Continue providing care for others while not neglecting your own grieving.
  • Reach out to Family and Friends.  Remain connected. Even with reduced numbers at vigils or funerals or later events connect with others through social media,  facebook, Zoom, etc.  Within a family at home communicate, share memories.  Help children too to build an album or memory book.
  • Find support.  Specialised help is available.  If you are struggling to cope and feel the need for stronger support or protection contact SADAG or a health professional for online therapy. http://www.sadag.org
  • Explore coping techniques to build your resilience.  Mindfulness, journaling, meditation, letter writing, expressing thoughts and feelings on paper and/or to a trusted person.  
  • Reach out to others with similar experience.   This can be mutually supportive, knowing you are not alone.  If working through an online support group beware of becoming overwhelmed.
  • Reflect on your own faith journey and Connect with your religious community. Offer and share prayer time or sharing of experience in a trusted setting.  Be patient and accepting, listen and don’t overwhelm one another with advice.  Search http://www.marfam.org.za/bereaved

CHILDREN EXPERIENCE LOSS TOO.  Do not exclude children from the family during the whole process but give lots of love and support. Encourage them to express their own fears, thoughts and feelings and be accepting of their reality.   Help them to express their feelings in creating a memory box or scrap book of the person they have lost.  

  

    FAMILY WEEKLY    TONI ROWLAND       MARFAM AUGUST 2020

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