The whole world is in a crisis; but for those of us who were grieving before COVID, the world had already fallen apart.
Megan Devine, psychotherapist and author of It’s OK That You’re Not OK: Meeting Grief and Loss in a Culture That Doesn’t Understand, posted a YouTube video acknowledging how one’s grief can feel like it has gone unnoticed during the pandemic.
Under normal circumstances, someone grieving might receive a phone call from friends who are checking in or a visit from a family member who shares their pain.
However, social distancing, quarantines, and a variety of other losses that their supportive tribe is experiencing have limited these vital coping mechanisms.
“People are having their own losses and unfortunately don’t have the emotional capacity to help out as they normally would or like to,” a friend of mine told me when discussing my grief journey.
My fiancé died a month prior to the first COVID-19 case in the U.S., and there were three people I knew I could count on. They called me daily, sent text messages, and listened to my emotional woes. This same group visited me within the first few weeks of my loss, but soon after, the country went into quarantine.
“I wish I could see you,” one of my support people told me, “but I work with COVID-19 patients and I could be asymptomatic. I don’t feel like it’s safe to see you now.”
Another relative of mine was among the millions who lost their job; a close friend who checked in with me weekly now grieves her sister who contracted the virus and died; others are battling with wedding cancelations, births during medical visit restrictions, and working from home with young children.
This minimizes the extent to which they can help. My tribe, who had frequently checked in, reaches out less, and understandably so. Their world has been turned upside down now. Yet, as an already grieving person, my loss feels lost in the pandemic.
Yet, as an already grieving person, my loss feels lost in the pandemic.
As I sat in my chair one evening swiping through photos of my fiancé, I wondered, “Where did my grief go?” It felt invisible. In addition to this, our health crisis has raised unnerving questions: What other losses might next? Will it be my job? Someone else I love? My health? How will I cope on hard grief days? Is it okay to talk about this with others? This anxiety is normal in grief, especially with so much uncertainty around us.
Jason Spendelow, Ph.D., a clinical and coaching psychologist specializing in depression, anxiety, and bereavement, wrote in a Psychology Today article: “Anxiety itself is made up of a combination of thoughts, physical effects, and behavioural responses. For example, anxiety about the anniversary of a deceased partner might consist of a feared inability to cope with this date (e.g., “I am going to fall apart”), racing heart, and avoiding conversations about the milestone.”
If you are challenged with feeling unseen during grief and experiencing anxious feelings as the pandemic persists, there are a few steps you can take.
Acknowledge your grief: Reflecting on the pain you feel not only validates your experience but helps you recognize the loss that feels forgotten. Naming your grief and allowing yourself to feel it is like pressing the unmute button, giving your grief a voice.
Share how you feel: It’s ok to call a close friend or relative and ask them if you can share the heavy emotions. Please keep in mind that although their loss may not be comparable to yours, it is still a loss. Your person may want to help but emotionally and mentally is not able to.
If they are not, ask yourself who else you can contact. If they can handle what you are experiencing, share it with them and allow yourself to be supported.
Gain control: Grief places us in an unfamiliar world and it can be uncontainable. Remember to ask yourself what you can control or what routines and rituals you can create. Maybe that means waking up, brushing your teeth, and showering. Or soon after getting out of bed, watering the plants and drinking tea.
Whatever it may be, break up your day and decide on one or two tasks you can do. Choose ones that are easy, within your control, and give you something to look forward to.
Accept what is and be ok with it: Grief doesn’t come with guidelines. Know that it is perfectly normal to not be okay. You can expect to feel a variety of emotions and possibly be disoriented. Grief uproots everything that felt familiar, and it is okay if you are not living “life as usual” during this process.
Of course, if you are overwhelmed and in need of additional support, reaching out to a therapist who can assist you with your individual experience, and make your grief feel seen, may prove beneficial.