Encountering loss, such as death, is difficult at any time, but the coronavirus brings additional complications when navigating the grief process. Many people who lost a loved one during this pandemic were unable to say goodbye in person or, because of social distancing restrictions, did not have the option of attending a funeral or burial. Normal feelings of sadness and loss are intensified during this time without the in-person support from friends and family, in addition to increased feelings of isolation.
COVID-19 has significantly changed the way we live and the way we die. Common grief reactions include periods of sadness, shock/denial, anxiety, loss of sleep/appetite, anger, and distress. Psychology experts point out that having a clear plan for coping with bereavement is essential during this pandemic. Grief is not something to be avoided and can be purposeful in helping us to recognize our loss and the need to adapt. Here are some tips for coping with grief and sorrow in a healthy way and some suggestions on how to help someone else during their time of bereavement.
1. Be honest with yourself and realistic.
Give yourself a bit of breathing space and grace by acknowledging that this health crisis is making normal things, including grieving, more challenging. Pay attention to your feelings, allowing yourself to feel sadness or cry. Practice self-kindness. Avoid blaming yourself for not being “stronger” or “more on top of things.” Cut yourself some slack and recognize that nothing is normal right now, and it’s OK.
2. Be intentional about connecting with others.
“We encourage those who are grieving to talk,” says Claudio Consuegra, director of Family Ministries for the North American Division. Consuegra and others who counsel recite a common phrase: pain shared is pain divided. The act of expressing your pain or feelings with someone else provides a way to lift some of the weight off your chest and allows someone else to help you carry it. “When you talk about your pain, you are taking some of that pain and sharing it, and the burden is now carried by two, or three, or 10 people,” Consuegra adds.
As we continue in this pandemic, limiting physical connection is necessary for safety reasons, but Consuegra emphasizes that experiencing social closeness while maintaining physical distance is possible and necessary for our wellbeing. Phone calls, text messages, and video chats are some helpful alternatives to getting necessary support.
We should also seek safe, creative ways to interact. “We need to see people,” Consuegra says. “It’s good enough to be safe and watch the screen when we are on Zoom, Skype, etc., but we actually need to see faces, and to see bodies, and to listen to people.” He cites examples of people in cities who look forward to the time each day when they come out on their balconies to collectively listen to local musicians play music, or sing, or make noise to show appreciation for essential workers during the pandemic. “We are social people . . . in reality, I want to be close to you, and I need to be close to you emotionally, but I need to maintain physical distance for our safety,” Consuegra adds.
3. Be present and practice active listening.
It is good to offer support and help for someone who is grieving. Romans 12:15 says that we should “rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.” In his practice as a grief counselor, Consuegra points out, “The ministry of presence is the most important thing we can do.” Just quietly being there in the moment with the person who is grieving can be very therapeutic. If they want to talk, give the person that space of quietness to share without interruption. “Listen instead of talking,” Consuegra says, but adds that the act of listening requires involvement. “Ask questions when appropriate, pay attention to the person’s feelings as you listen to what they are saying,” he adds. “If they say, ‘Sometimes I feel like I’m going crazy;’ don’t just say, ‘You’re not going crazy.’ Instead, validate those feelings by saying, ‘It must be a horrible situation to feel like you are going to lose your mind.’ It’s a different way of saying it, but it tells the other person that I’m listening to what you are saying.”
4. Offer practical help.
Some people who are grieving may find it difficult to gather their thoughts and focus on simple household tasks. “Sometimes we often want to philosophize or say something that makes the other person feel good or better, instead of doing something that actually helps,” Consuegra says. He suggests that people can show they care in practical ways, even while maintaining physical distance. Instead of putting the responsibility on the person who is grieving to reach out and ask for help, think of ways you can assist and offer to do it. “When you are in the midst of grief, the last thing you want, and the last thing you think about, is calling somebody else,” Consuegra says. “Offer to mow the lawn, pick up some groceries for them, bring precooked meals for them, take their kid to the park when you take your kids—offer things that are practical and necessary in their daily life to lend a hand and free them to focus on other things.”
Feelings and symptoms of grief cannot only result from the death of a loved one, but also from the loss of a job, or the loss of the routine of school, play, worship, etc. Above all, be caring and patient with the person who is experiencing grief. “Grief is not something we can fix. Everyone has their own journey and their own timeline; it’s something that people have to journey through,” Consuegra says. As people adjust to a new reality and turn their attention to the things that are in their control, in time, feelings of grief will diminish.