Love and Loss in the Time of COVID
How to help someone who is grieving.
Posted Feb 22, 2021
Grieving is painful and isolating. Grieving during a pandemic can feel downright cruel. The typical ways your friends and family would show up for you in more normal times may not be safe or available, leaving you more isolated in your loss. Friends and family can feel lost and uncertain about how to help someone who is grieving, especially now.
Grievers need grievers. Grievers need companions. We were not designed to process the enormity of human loss alone. This is one of the functions of rituals like shiva and funerals—to join people together, remembering the person lost, and leaning on one another to get by. Without these rituals, without the pre-COVID face-to-face contact and comfort, grievers are even more vulnerable and in need of ongoing support.
In my own experiences and those of people I’ve witnessed, well-meaning people have fumbled to be supportive in times of grief. Admittedly, I was also one of those people before I went through my own loss. I wanted to make it better for people grieving, to take away their pain.
That right there was a setup for failure. You can’t make someone’s grief better. You can’t take away their pain. But you can join them in it. You can walk with them in it—literally or figuratively. Making comments like “everything happens for a reason” or “at least he/she isn’t suffering anymore” doesn’t take away a person’s pain. It only shows them that you can’t tolerate their feelings and can’t bear to see or hear their pain.
Grief, like love, is infinite. It has no timeline. It has no end date. We would never rush or diminish love.
Similarly, we can’t expedite or minimize grief. Grief evolves and changes over time. Expecting it to go away or encouraging someone to “move on” denies the very nature of grief. It’s like asking a bird not to tweet, a flower not to bloom, or a cloud not to rain.
Even in this challenging time, we can show up for others who are enduring loss. In the words of Brene Brown: "Connection is why we're here; it is what gives purpose and meaning to our lives." It is those connections that carry us lovingly in times of unbearable grief. In my times of loss, I’ve been so fortunate and grateful to be cared for. This is my attempt to pay it forward.
To support someone who is grieving:
- Listen. Really listen.
- Check-in with texts or calls or cards, but don’t put any pressure on a reply.
- Send food.
- Send a care package with items you find comforting and/or distracting when you are sad.
- Share a poem, song, or piece of art you like or find soothing.
- If you know the person who died, share memories of him or her.
- Create a photo or video montage of the person who died.
- Put important dates in your calendar so you can be present for the griever around anniversaries—like birthdays, the anniversary of their death, etc. Know that people often have a hard time in the days and weeks leading up to the anniversary as much or even more than on the day itself.
- Plant flowers or a tree in remembrance of the person lost.
- Donate to a charity in remembrance of the person lost.
- Help the person plan a virtual memorial with friends, family, or colleagues.
- Remember that grief and positive feelings can coexist. Don’t be afraid to share humor, upbeat stories, or feel-good material, but also don’t be hurt if the timing just isn't right for the person grieving to smile with you.
Grief is not a problem to be fixed. But if you are a doer and a fixer, there are certainly ways you can be helpful to a person who is preoccupied with grief and likely not motivated or able to do the things they might typically be able to do:
- Offer to do yardwork or plant a garden.
- Offer to send someone to clean the house or do it yourself.
- Send frozen meals that are easy to reheat.
- Offer to do the grocery shopping.
- Stop by the gravesite or memorial.
- Offer to pet sit or dog walk.
This is a short list of ideas for those of you who, like me, struggled to know what to say and do when someone close to you is grieving. I’d love to hear from readers what you’ve done for someone who is grieving or the ways people have shown you support in your own grief.