Grief, a deep sorrow or intense emotional suffering, is a reaction to a loss. It is a process that is never complete. Once you have experienced a loss, grief becomes a companion on your life’s journey. Its presence waxes and wanes over time. Sometimes, you know beyond a shadow of a doubt that grief is right there next to you — traveling beside you, uninvited and often, unwelcome. Other times, you barely notice grief traveling in your orbit. Grief is often most intensely felt after the death of a loved one but is certainly not limited to that.
The period of mourning after a loss is called bereavement. Bereavement is also a journey that is unique to each person. There’s no right or wrong way to grieve, no right or wrong way to go through bereavement; however, there are situations that can expand grief, making the period of bereavement more difficult to navigate.
Any loss can bring with it feelings of sorrow and emotional overwhelm — the death of a loved one, losing a job or a home or losing a relationship — can elicit feelings of grief, ushering in a time of bereavement in our lives. So can a global pandemic, upending lives for months on end.
If you feel like you are in a perpetual state of bereavement in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic and the way it has completely changed your life, you are not alone. You may be grieving the loss of community: happy hour after work, Thursday night trivia, gathering with your faith community or joining with friends in each other’s homes for dinner.
The Amplification of Isolation
Isolation amplifies grief after a loss. A months-long period of self-isolation because of the pandemic is a kind of loss in itself. Grieving because of isolation, while isolated is an intense experience, often leading to despair. Despair can be another element of grief and bereavement. A sense of hopelessness, that nothing will ever be the same, may creep in on you when you are trying to sleep or spend time with your family. You may notice yourself becoming more worried, easily irritated and on edge. Often, isolation and despair go hand in hand, as the yearning for time with friends and family becomes more and more intense.
Self-Care Strategies to Navigate Pandemic Bereavement
There are a few things you can do, as you navigate this time of pandemic bereavement, starting with some self-care strategies. Everyone’s version of self-care and what works for them is unique, but there are some common things you can do to get the most out of your self-care time.
Consider unplugging as you do whatever activity you’ve chosen to refresh your mind and uplift your soul. If you’re like me, checking the phone for notifications is almost second-nature. Maybe you could place it in another room while you recharge, free of distraction.
Enjoy an Activity
Some examples are reading, yoga/meditation, vigorous exercise, writing, drawing/painting, a relaxing bath or trying out a new recipe.
You may also want to limit your consumption of news during the week, be it articles in print or online newspapers, or the news on TV or radio. For some, having that information feels helpful. For others, it can become a contributor to general grief about the way the world has changed because of the pandemic. Choose what is most helpful for you.
Perhaps you want to stay informed but also need a way to process the information you’re taking in. In this case, journaling can be very helpful. A journal is a place where you and your deepest thoughts can be alone. A journal won’t judge you for anything you write or ridicule your existential fears. It’s a place where you can be completely and fully your most open and honest self. That can be comforting.
Know that It’s Okay to Feel “Not Okay”
Sometimes, the most comforting thing to know is that if you are feeling bereaved, even without having lost someone to death recently, you are not alone. Most people have, in the course of their lives, experienced the death of someone they love. A pandemic that continues to claim life after life amplifies these losses, even years removed from the present moment. And that’s really difficult. It’s a lot to deal with on its own. The changes to life as we once knew it complicate everything even more.
So if you feel like everything is too much right now, maybe that’s because everything is too much right now. Stop. Take three deep breaths and a big sip of water, and think about the next thing you can do right now to keep getting through this. Do that as many times as you need to throughout the day, and plan some time to take care of yourself each week, as well. Make it an appointment on your calendar. And remember to ask for help when the path forward seems insurmountable. Talk with a trusted family member or friend, a therapist or your healthcare provider. Find ways to engage in faith practices you find meaningful or to safely connect with your faith community. We can and will make it through this collective time of bereavement.