Grief in the Time of Coronavirus


BY: Margaret D. Bossaller, MA, MSW, LSW

Category: Grief and Loss

Grief is a common theme in this time of the coronavirus pandemic. The truth is, we are all grieving the loss of our normal routine, limited social contact, increased fear and anxiety, increased awareness of our mortality and a general sense of uncertainty about what the future holds. The impact of this widespread grief is more intense for individuals who are grieving a death during this time.

Even when the losses one experiences feels overwhelming, there are ways to cope.

Avoid Comparisons: We often try to minimize our pain by pointing out others who we see as having more difficult experiences. This behavior rarely makes us feel better; in contrast, it often brings a sense of shame or guilt about our struggles and difficult emotions. Instead, allow yourself to feel whatever emotions come to you without judgment or comparison. This practice will make it easier for you to pay attention to your own feelings and discover what you need to begin to heal.

Practice Self-Compassion: We are often hard on ourselves when we struggle with difficult emotions; however, this practice does not help us to cope. When you find that you are being critical of yourself, pause. Take a breath. Think about how you might respond to a dear friend or loved one struggling in the same way. Then, say to yourself—out loud or silently—whatever it is that you would say to that friend. Try to imagine the compassion you would have for your friend in the same situation and send that compassion to yourself.

Utilize Rituals: There are many ways to mark significant moments and emotions. One of the most common ways we do this is with large, public rituals like memorial services, funerals, graduations or weddings. As we practice social distancing, we are reminded that rituals don’t have to be large public events. Perhaps you will choose to honor a loved one who has died by visiting a place that holds special memories you shared together. Or maybe you will work to benefit a cause that is important to the person you wish to remember.

Seek Social Support Safely: Although we may not be able to connect with others in ways we have in the past, social support from a distance is still possible. Consider connecting with people you care about through technology, such as videoconferencing. Or return to the ways of yesterday and write them a letter. Maybe you can arrange to have an outdoor picnic with someone you care about while maintaining proper distance. Let others know that you would like to connect with them and see if you can work to come up with creative solutions together.

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