Grieving the Loss of a Loved One during a Pandemic
In this article, Registered Clinical Counsellor Ashley Wan describes why the loss of a loved one during pandemic is so difficult and briefly shares how counselling can help.
Grieving the loss of a loved one is difficult and involves what can often feel like a rollercoaster of emotions.
These may include feelings of shock, anger, sadness, guilt, anxiety, confusion, fear, regret, hurt, and loneliness that at times can feel overwhelming and unbearable.
During COVID-19, coping with these emotions and processing through grief can be even more difficult for a number of reasons.
Firstly, physical distancing directives have made it more difficult to connect with friends and family outside our immediate circle for in-person emotional and practical support. Connecting with supportive others over telephone or video chat can be helpful. However, these cannot replace the feeling of comfort and security that comes from being hugged or having our hand held in the midst of our pain.
Additionally, restrictions on social gatherings and travel have meant that many are or have been unable to visit the dying in their last days (to have meaningful conversations, to make amends). Nor were they able to attend rituals or ceremonies such as funeral services or celebrations of life (in order to remember, to say goodbye). This may increase feelings of guilt, frustration, and helplessness and/or make it more challenging to accept the reality that the loved one is truly gone and to get closure.
Lastly, baseline levels of stress have increased because of the impact of the pandemic on the lives of individuals and society as a whole. Stress over job loss, fears of economic recession, anxiety over health concerns and other issues leave less emotional capacity and energy to be able to support others in their grief as well as to manage one’s own grief.
These combined challenges make it harder for people to grieve. One might find themselves at a loss for how to cope.
Below are some helpful tips, followed by information on how counselling may help.
Tips to Cope with Grief
Grieving the loss of a loved one during a pandemic is hard. Here are some ways to manage grief despite COVID-19 restrictions:
- Ask friends and family to schedule a regular (weekly, for example) check-in with you through phone or video call or by a physically distanced walk in nature. Space out these check-ins through the week.
- Connect through physical touch (a hug, hand holding) with safe others within your immediate circle/bubble.
- Create an online space using apps or social media where family and friends can share memories, stories, and pictures together.
- Try letter writing or journaling or creative writing to express your thoughts and feelings.
- Ask friends or family to help with daily needs (for example, meal preparation or running errands).
- Pray or engage in other spiritual practices.
- Help reduce stress through self-care activities such as mindfulness meditation or yoga, taking a bath, enjoying a warm drink, exercise, and getting adequate sleep.
- Join a support group in your area.
- Seek support through counselling.
How Counselling Can Help
The ability to access adequate resources and social supports has been significantly limited during COVID-19. As a result, the grieving process may become more prolonged and complicated. When grief does not seem to subside or abate or its intensity feels beyond one’s ability to cope, it may be time to seek additional support.
Counselling provides a gentle, supportive and compassionate space to be heard, witnessed, and received in the pain of grief.
- Identify and make sense of the many intense and complex thoughts and feelings that may arise, as well as to normalize these experiences.
- Reduce the distress felt in response to having such thoughts and feelings.
- Integrate the loss by supporting the person to adjust and adapt to a world without the loved one, and by assisting the person to discover ways to remember the loved one as they continue on their life journey.
Particularly during this time of pandemic, counselling can also help to address and relieve pandemic-related grief, stress, or anxiety which can make the experience of grief even more overwhelming.
Every person’s journey through grief is unique. It has been likened to being dropped into a wilderness where one may feel lost, confused, helpless, and disoriented. Counselling provides companionship along this journey and help to navigate and find a way out of the wilderness.