Overcoming grief and loss due to COVID-19

By Sagar Makanji and Dr. Paula Hensley 

Explore tips and information to protect your mental health and deal with grief and loss of loved ones due to the worldwide impacts of COVID-19.

When else in our lifetime can we say all people in all countries of the world have directly experienced grief and loss due to the same traumatic event? Now that we are living through the COVID-19 pandemic, this is the sad reality. Our very sense of normalcy has been turned upside down, we have lost loved ones, missed milestones and other life events, and faced social isolation. We all hear about the traumas that occur across our globe – 9/11, weather events, war – and we may be affected; but COVID-19 has profoundly touched and changed each of our lives in many similar ways. As our world is adjusting to a now improving, but still evolving, pandemic, here are some tips to protect our mental health.

Dealing with grief and loss from COVID-19

While it’s never easy when we lose a loved one, grief and loss during the pandemic has been exacerbated by the confusion, fear, and social isolation we have all experienced. The novel coronavirus, COVID-19, did not come with an instruction manual and we had to learn, very quickly, how it was spread, how it affected those who got infected, and how to avoid being infected. Confusion around all of these things, and how a family member or friend could have died from this virus, was inevitable. At the same time, fear of the unknown and for one’s own health and safety was inescapable. Due to the critical social distancing measures, we could not even visit our loved ones in the hospital, even if the worst was expected. We could not begin our grieving process by honoring those we lost with traditional funeral services. As we’re navigating the stages of grief during COVID-19, here are some things to remember:

  • You may hear about the “stages of grief,” but it’s normal to bounce back and forth between the stages and not experience them in a linear way.
  • No matter what you’re feeling, your feelings are valid, and you are entitled to them; avoid telling yourself you should be feeling one way or another.
  • Grieving doesn’t mean you are forgetting or totally letting go.
  • It’s important to build a support system.
  • With grief comes growth.

Practicing self-care to cope with grief and loss

Grieving is an intensely personal process. We can start to feel better when we reach out to loved ones and professionals for support, but there is no one who knows us better than ourselves, and we can always be our own best advocate. Knowing that our lost loved ones surely would want us to be happy and not suffer, it’s important to prioritize our own self-care and compassion to unlock its immense healing power. Engaging in self-care activities – exercise, journaling, meditation, doing something creative, etc. – can help us build resiliency and mental strength, elevate our mood, process our feelings, and cope effectively. As we strive to take care of and make time for ourselves, the following are some tips to keep in mind:

  • Understand that grief is an ongoing process; it requires our self-patience and kindness.
  • Realize that helping yourself does not mean you are avoiding the experience, rather that you are embracing it.
  • Treat yourself the way you would treat a close friend or family member who is going through the same thing.
  • Be deliberate and purposeful in taking breaks to mentally check out and/or do something that makes you happy or laugh.
  • Focus on the present to ease the burdens of, and make more palatable, all that must be done that day, week, month, etc.
  • Grant yourself permission to feel, as it’s a natural part of the grieving process; understand it’s okay to be vulnerable.

We can find meaning in the losses we have endured through this ordeal. Our lost loved ones gave us many gifts, and we can pick up on those gifts in celebration of their memories. We can embrace life and do the things that make us happy. We can reflect on the changes and losses caused by the pandemic that forced us to reevaluate our priorities, taking with us the good and leaving behind the bad. And we must always remember to seek help when it’s needed.

We encourage you to watch a recording of our webinar “Coping with grief and loss during COVID-19,” which can be found under Previous Events on our COVID-19 resources website, as we share knowledge and tips for persevering after grief and loss due to COVID-19 and answer audience questions.

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