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Coping with Grief During a Pandemic

Recommendations to get through a tough time in an unusual time.

Photo by Claudia Wolff on Unsplash
Source: Photo by Claudia Wolff on Unsplash

Since the arrival of the coronavirus pandemic, many of us have experienced loss, sadness, anxiety, and grief. You will often hear how losing a loved one changes you for the rest of your life. You learn to move forward in life carrying with you the cherished memories of this person and the love they brought into this world, into their relationship with you. For many, this is one of the hardest things they will ever experience in their life. It’s never easy, whether you have experienced a sudden loss of a loved one or losing a loved one due to an illness or cancer, that may have included stays in a hospital or hospice setting. Pre-pandemic, one vital aspect of this process that helped us grieve was being surrounded by our loved ones and friends. Being present with your loved ones as they were in the hospital, being present with loved ones at a viewing or mass, being present with your family and friends at a luncheon after the funeral, just being physically present with others helped us to cope. Currently, we are almost a year into the isolating effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and unfortunately, like everyone, I have felt loss. Like others worldwide, I missed casual visits with friends and family, holiday gatherings, having my children’s education interrupted, struggling to adapt to zoom and other online video tools, fear of contracting COVID-19, etc. The list can go on! My family also experienced two personal losses within a very short time frame. Both were my uncles; both were my mother’s brothers. One uncle contracted COVID-19 and passed away in under a month, and my other uncle lost his lengthy battle with cancer.

How the Pandemic Impacts the Grieving Process

In any time period, losing a loved one is a very difficult experience. You will hear individuals experience stages of grief and loss, denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Maneuvering through these stages is often supported in part by aspects that we are missing because of the pandemic. One of the elements that are different is not being able to hug someone, to give or receive a simple embrace! People often say that you might not remember what people say, but you will remember how they made you feel. An embrace of love, support, and I am here for you without saying a word is missing these days. Further, visitation limitations in hospitals and nursing homes due to the pandemic have strongly impacted the grieving process. This deepens the void felt in the time with a loved one who is sick leading up to their passing. This may cause us to feel like we missed out on being there, caring for, and helping our sick loved ones feel like they are not alone. Also, some people are nervous about attending the viewing and funerals. Constraints on large gatherings impact how many people can attend, and even those who attend are spaced far apart. The purposeful distancing helps to keep it safe in the pandemic but takes away some of the comfort in gathering together to mourn. Some wanted to attend but also wanted to make sure they were safe. In regards to my uncle, one family friend explained, “I really wanted to go, have closure, pay my respects and love to him and all of his loved ones,” but due to COVID-19 and his physical health concerns, was not able to attend.

Recommendations to Help with Loss During a Pandemic

This pandemic has had a huge impact on how we cope with grief, and it may lead us to use some new methods to help us through the tough times. If you or someone you know is dealing with a loss, the recommendations below may help to ease the pain and additional loneliness felt when losing a loved one.

Therapy. Seeing a therapist can help you process your grief and sadness.

Group Therapy (Bereavement groups). Attending a bereavement group can help you connect with others who have lost loved ones. It also may help with feeling like you are not alone and learn coping strategies from others that may better support this extremely difficult time for you.

NAMI or other support groups. Joining a group like the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) or other support groups such as those offered on social media platforms. This will help you broaden your scope of supportive networks. These groups and support networks are often at zero cost and can be extremely beneficial.

Support and Time. There is no specific way to mourn a loved one. For some, it may take a long time to pass through the stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance). For those supporting someone who lost a loved one, just being present with them (virtually or physically distanced) and encouraging them to talk about their loved one is extremely beneficial. They may not remember what you said, but surely will remember how you made them feel. This is especially true with grief – just knowing that you are there, listening, and offering comfort means so much!

Talk. Continue to talk about your thoughts and feelings related to the frustrations, anxiety, sadness, and grief due to the loss of the loved one. Shutting down, avoiding, and isolating can be an instinctual response with grief and understandable due to the significant loss. Talk about the good times you had with the person, talk about the anger you have related to your situation, talk about the sadness that you have about the loss. The most important thing is to express yourself.

Pictures of your loved one. Looking through pictures of my uncles really helped me and my family. Remembering good times, funny moments, and speaking about their character, values, and personality was extremely beneficial to my family.

Memorialize the loved one. There are various ways you can memorialize your loved one. Some ideas are dedicating and planting a tree, flower, or garden for your loved one, contributing to a local charity, creating an online memorial, or creating a picture box.

Engage in Self-Care. Take care of yourself. Yoga, meditation, walks, music, exercise, gym, and eating right are a few things that can help you during a time of grieving.

Be kind to yourself. Losing a loved one is one of the hardest situations a person can experience. Self-compassion throughout this experience is one aspect that may help you process your grief. This is also easier said than done. A beautiful quote by Rick Hanson from his book Just One Thing is “you can have compassion for yourself- which is not self-pity. You’re simply recognizing that ‘this is tough, this hurts,’ and bringing the same warmhearted wish for suffering to lessen or end that you would bring to any dear friend grappling with the same pain, upset, or challenges as you.”

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