When you’re grieving a loved one, it can feel like your whole world’s been turned upside-down. The whirlwind of emotions can be especially potent during the COVID-19 pandemic, when even accessing bereavement therapy or connecting with your support systems is more difficult.
But there’s hope. In this post, we’ll offer insights to help you manage your grief effectively and provide resources for grief and loss therapy.
Common Grief Reactions
When you first receive the news of losing a loved one, you might have a whole range of emotions and reactions, including:
- Shock, disbelief, or denial
- Loss of appetite
- Trouble sleeping
- Prolonged periods of sadness
This might feel overwhelming and confusing. Try to remind yourself that a wide range of emotions during the grief process is common, often necessary, and is even healthy.
How to Handle Grief as it Comes Up
Observe, Name, and Acknowledge Your Feelings in the Moment
We tend to expect grief to be limited to feelings of sadness, but it’s usually so much more than that – especially if you have a complicated relationship with the deceased. Grief often involves a whole storm of emotions.
Experiencing multiple emotions simultaneously can make it incredibly difficult to navigate or even make sense of any given moment. Give yourself the time and space to identify what you’re feeling. Try not to judge yourself if you don’t feel like your emotions make sense. Losing a loved one is a complicated emotional process. Try to free yourself from judgment and simply name your feelings as they come up.
Expect Highs and Lows
Grief isn’t a straight line. Some days, you might feel like your normal self. Other days, it might feel impossible to put on a brave face – or even to get out of bed. When this happens, try not to panic or judge yourself. Grief is a process that takes time. You can’t fast-track it or opt out of it. Accept that you’ll have good days and bad days. This acceptance will make both kinds of days easier to handle.
Handling loss is difficult for everyone. For some, it’s tempting to make the process even more difficult by blaming yourself for not handling the loss better. It’s easy to judge yourself for not handling grief “properly.” What feels like “tough love” often just makes the process harder. Remember, the way you feel now won’t last forever. Give yourself permission to take it slow. You don’t always have to be your best self.
Make Time for Self Care
Grief involves a lot of logistics we often don’t think about. It’s tempting to throw yourself into funeral planning or to lose yourself in your daily schedule. But shoving your grief inwards will only delay the inevitable and let those feelings fester.
Think about what makes you feel relaxed, nourished, and rejuvenated. Make extra time for those activities. Book them in your calendar and treat them as seriously as you would a commitment with a friend or colleague. This can include:
- Taking a leisurely walk through a beautiful part of your neighborhood
- Treating yourself to a delicious and nourishing meal
- Taking a long bath
- Watching your favorite comedy
How COVID-19 Complicates Grief
It’s always hard to cope with losing a loved one. But it can be even harder during the COVID-19 pandemic, when our normal grief processes are disrupted. Some people may have lost multiple loved ones to COVID. Others might be unable to be with their loved ones in their final days. In- person funerals and gatherings might not be safe or possible.
Many people are also finding themselves coping with other losses at the same time, such as:
- Under- or unemployment
- Financial struggles
- Reduced access to support services
- Lifestyle changes due to COVID-19
These changes add stress, making grief harder to handle.
Tips to Navigate the Grieving Process During COVID
Find Unique Ways to Connect with Others
If in-person gatherings aren’t feasible, find other ways to bridge that gap. Set up group chats or Facebook groups to encourage connection. Invite loved ones to call you when they feel ready to talk. Consider hosting video calls with people who were closed to the deceased. This can offer support to everyone who’s grieving and give you a sense of purpose while you navigate your own emotions.
Create Memories or Rituals
Share stories and pictures of your loved one via mailed letters, emails, or other methods. Invite other people to contribute. Try compiling them into a virtual memory book, scrapbook, blog, or website. Disperse the link so everyone can reminisce.
Commemorate Your Loved One’s Life
In-person funerals or other grieving customs might be on hold, but that doesn’t mean you can’t do something special to honor your loved one. Plant a tree, prepare their favorite meal, or donate or volunteer to a cause that was close to their heart.
Expand Your Support System
Most people’s first line of defense when facing hardship is seeking support from friends, family, and trusted community members (like clergy). But during the COVID-19 pandemic, everyone is stretched thin. And even in the best of times, sometimes you need to look outside your established social circles to get the support you need.
Reach out to grief therapy, hotlines, support groups, and mental health services. Many of these services are now available online, so they’re easier to access than ever before. Take advantage of these opportunities to connect with a new sense of community. Connecting with others can remind you that you’re not alone.
Everyone’s grieving process is different, and we’re truly grieving during unprecedented times. If you’re struggling to navigate everyday life amid your grief, McLean Counseling Center is here to help.
Among our experienced providers is Susan Nelson, LCSW. Susan Nelson is a therapist who specializes in grief and loss therapy, helping patients navigate complex periods of transition in their lives.
To schedule a session with Susan Nelson, contact McLean Counseling Center at 703-821-1073 or email Susan directly firstname.lastname@example.org