During this time of pandemic, grief and tragedy appear as an everyday occurrence on the nightly news. There are horrifying numbers of people dying as well as many other forms of loss too. Not being able to see family members; losing employment; loss or tightening of income; loss of social interaction and being confined to our homes; not seeing aging friends and relatives; not feeling as certain about what the future may hold, are all losses that have become part of our new reality. Uncertainty and grief can also remind us of losses from our past, and the accompanying emotional layers can be a struggle to manage and not become overwhelmed by.
How can we grieve when we cannot be together? Grieving the loss of a person who we love is one of the hardest things to endure. While restrictions of groups gathering are in place, we may feel less able to share our experience with others, to be with others grieving, process our grief with them face-to-face, and comfort each other. We are also limited to celebrating a loved one’s life with only nine other people at funerals. It may be useful to plan a larger event when restrictions are lifted, to remember a loved one together and to give them the respect their passing would normally embrace.
There is no right or wrong way to grieve. Each of us experiences grief differently, often with waves of sadness washing over us, again and again. Since every relationship is unique, so too is how we feel and relate to each loss, which can mean that grief can feel a very lonely and isolating experience. It is important to know what to expect and how to prepare ourselves. There are components to the grieving process which we seem to move in and out of, looping back to revisit some, and then slowly moving towards acceptance of our loss. The five commonly understood components of grief are not a method for putting messy emotions into neat packages. They don’t prescribe how we grieve, rather they describe.
- Denial: shock and disbelief that the loss has occurred
- Anger: that someone we love is no longer here
- Bargaining: all the what-ifs and regrets
- Depression: sadness from the loss
- Acceptance: acknowledging the reality of the loss
Some things we do know that can help us endure and survive grief and loss are:
- Taking time away from other things to allow ourselves to grieve
- Acknowledging and feeling the painful feelings
- Spending time grieving on our own
- Spending time grieving with others
- Talking, getting on the phone or online, letting our thoughts and feelings out
- Writing down our thoughts (e.g. a eulogy)
- Looking at and sharing photos
- Putting together slide shows of the person’s life and sharing treasured memories.
You may at times have to distract yourself from your grief for brief periods in order to emotionally manage. Continuing to watch favourite TV shows or laugh with friends has an important place at this time too. This is not, as many believe, a betrayal of their loved one, but a way that the body and mind can cope with the feelings overload.
If you are struggling and think you aren’t going to make it through, tell someone. It is okay to have someone else be the ‘holder of the hope’ for a while when you feel like you have completely lost sight or sense of it. In many families we have a natural way of taking turns in this role. Sometimes talking to someone outside of family or friends seems to be more helpful. Not many of us get through grief and loss on our own.
Children especially need help processing their feelings when they are grieving. Please don’t leave them to do this on their own. They will need some gentle coaching and to be shown that expressing emotions is important and manageable. This will help them build resilience.
It is also important to be aware that there is no fixed timeline for grief. You may still be working it through when friends and family think you should have “moved on”. That is a good time to get professional assistance, so you can have the space you need for a good hearing and more processing.
Support is available:
Time to Talk: 1300 022 966
Relationships Australia NSW Counselling: 1300 364 277
The Carousel would like to thank Megan Solomon for her article.