Grieving COVID-19: A Season of Loss

It is what it is…As the first wave of anxiety over the current pandemic subsides, it’s not surprising that many of us might be feeling a sort of let-down, a kind of low mood that catches us unaware, and can leave us tired, immobilized, or out of sorts. What is this?

Chances are, it’s most likely grief, a global mourning that Dr. Alan Wolfelt from the Center for Loss and Grief calls “pandemic grief.” Dr. Wolfelt defines grief in general as the thoughts and feelings we experience “whenever our attachments are threatened, harmed, or severed.”

We’ve certainly been ripped from many of our attachments, beginning with our natural attachment to “life as we knew it.” So it’s not surprising that we’re feeling grief right now, and as Dr. Nicholas Mitchell assures us, this grief is natural and normal in this abnormal situation.

What’s Your Loss?

If we think about this current pandemic in terms of grief, it can help give voice and meaning to the losses we’re experiencing. And really, when you think about it, we have lost so much over the past month….

  • The ability to physically attend Holy Mass and receive the sacraments
  • The physical presence of friends and family
  • Family celebrations, anniversaries, birthdays, weddings…and yes, even funerals
  • Jobs, work settings, and collegial support systems
  • Our identities…e.g. “I’m the breadwinner no more,” or “I was a working mom, and now I’m at home with the children”
  • Freedom
  • Our health, if we’ve been affected by the virus
  • And too many loved ones as well as those in our communities and in the wider global village who have died

What Does Grief Look Like?

Just as with any loss in our lives, pandemic grief might go through a number of different stages. Check out this infographic by Social Work Tech that walks you through 7 Stages of Grief. See if you can identify where you or someone you love is at in their grief journey.

Just as with any loss in our lives, pandemic grief might go through a number of different stages.

But, remember, grief doesn’t always happen in a linear process, so it’s important to accept yourself and others wherever you might be at any one time. And mourning can look different depending on our age, sex, current mental and physical health, and typical coping strategies.

Did you know that men and women tend to grieve in different ways? For example, men are more likely to hide their feelings, or trying to fix their grief or simply move on. On the other hand, women might feel more emotional and want to talk about their losses. Also, men tend to express sadness by getting angry, whereas women, who are twice as prone to anxiety as men, might find themselves becoming more anxious. Grief expert, David Kessler, calls this anticipatory grief, or grieving what might happen some time in the future.

The 6 Needs of Mourning

Dr. Wolfelt suggests that in order to grieve in a healthy way, there are 6 essential needs that must be met. It might be helpful to keep these needs in mind as you face your own grief or help your loved ones mourn the loss of life before COVID-19:

  1. Acknowledge your loss: Talk about what you miss and what you wish could be the same. Explore the changes in your life now compared to how things were before this pandemic.
  2. Face and embrace the pain of your loss: Instead of avoiding or denying your emotions, let yourself feel them…in small doses, if necessary.
  3. Remember how things were: Share memories, browse through photo albums, and play “Remember when…” games to recall life before lockdown.
  4. Discovery a new “home identity:” Redefine your roles and responsibilities, establish new relationships with those you are sheltering with and friends at a distance.
  5. Search for new meaning: Ask God to show you what His plan and purpose is for you in your new life under physical distancing directives.
  6. Ask for support: Share your grief experience with others in your household, reach out to friends by phone or social media.

Write it Out

One of the best ways to acknowledge and grieve our losses is to write about it.  lists many mental health benefits of journaling, including:

  • Increasing positive emotions and boosting overall mood
  • Enhancing your well-being
  • Improving your memory
  • Helping lift depression
  • Reducing intrusive memories and symptoms of avoidance, therefore lowering the risk of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

Needing some guidance on how to journal through your grief? Sign up for a 30-Day Grief Journaling Course to help you put your experience into words.

Mourning with our Youth

And don’t forget that our children and young people are grieving as well. In children, who don’t always have words for their loss and sadness, watch for these telltale signs:

  • Clinginess and irritability
  • Regressing by wetting the bed, using baby talk, etc.
  • Difficulty concentrating on school work
  • Having nightmares or wanting to sleep with you
  • Talking back, or having angry outbursts or temper tantrums
  • Acting out their feelings and experiences in their play

Teens and young adults have their own unique way of grieving their lives before COVID-19. Friends and social groups are extremely important for young people, so help them find ways to prevent physical distancing from turning into social distancing.

For more tips on listening to and validating emotions, watch these free caregiver webinars from Mental Health Foundations.

Grieving with Our Blessed Mother

And finally, during this solemn Holy Week of 2020, if you find that your pandemic grief is getting the better of you, pray a special novena or rosary with Mary, who can comfort and inspire you with hope in the midst of your sadness. Our Lady of Sorrows, pray for us.