Dealing with Grief During the COVID-19 Crisis
By Michael S. Phillips, LMHC, NCC, CAMS-II, EMT-CC
The COVID-19 pandemic is a crisis unlike situations that most of us have ever experienced. It has upended life as we know it and has created new paths that we have to follow until it becomes more controlled. Governmental recommendations have us self-quarantining, maintaining social distance and changing our normal everyday routines. We’ve seen our local businesses close (hopefully temporarily) and have been affected by stories of those around us testing positive for the coronavirus. With these changes come a change in emotions: an expected increase in anxiety, hopelessness and most of all worry.
We worry about our friends and family members, both near and far. We worry about our and their health. We worry about what would happen if someone got sick or even more so, what would happen if someone died. Death is a part of life and although many of us don’t feel comfortable facing it, we hope it isn’t something we have to face anytime soon.
When someone dies, we have to plan and face services such as wakes, viewings, funerals, shivas, etc. Due to current recommendations and restrictions, many of these ‘normal’ customs have to be modified. Our typical sense of grief becomes exacerbated by a new level of stress in planning and coordinating arrangements.
Challenges and Changes to the Traditional Services and Ceremonies
Viewings, wakes, funerals, burials, shivas and memorials are some of the most common ways to grieve the loss of a loved one, celebrate their life and openly express feelings of loss. Due to health and safety concerns many of these traditions may not be able to be held the way they were planned or even wanted. Pre-planned funerals with specific wishes may not be able to be honored; this can leave family members hurting even more and adding additional levels of stress. In lieu of this, many funeral homes are assisting with live streaming funerals, postponing burials, and offering locations for future memorial services.
Finding available options and choosing the best one for you will allow you to grieve the best way you can.
Finding a Way to Grieve
Psychiatrist Elizabeth Kubler-Ross established the ‘Stages of Grief’ in which people dealt with the emotions that accompany loss of a loved one. These stages do not occur in any particular order nor do they last a precise length of time. More so, each person processes and grieves differently.
The stages include:
· Denial (feelings of disbelief)
· Bargaining (thinking or offering trade-offs)
· Anger (placing blame or outrage)
· Depression (felling helpless or hopeless)
· Acceptance (ability to move forward)
It is important to have the opportunity to grieve the loss of a friend or loved one. It is also just as important for those around to help each other grieve. Many options have become available to help individuals through these times. Some have opted to participate in video groups (e.g., Zoom) instead of visitations/wakes (displaying a picture instead of a casket) or shiva (the Jewish period of mourning). Members of the clergy have been more than willing to help participate in services in these groups in order to help by adding a religious component for those in need.
If you are unable to participate in one of the traditional ceremonies, set time to remember the person. You might look through pictures, listen to music, write a letter to the person who passed or their family conveying your thoughts or feelings, light a remembrance candle, write a message on a memorial site or just take a walk and process.
Consulting or talking to a professional counselor is an additional resource that can be beneficial. Telemental health services (secure telephone or video sessions and/or meetings) are available to individuals, families or even groups. For more information on services available, feel free to contact any of the Coping Counselors at (516) 822-3131 or www.coping.com.
Taking Care of Yourself
Self-care is what we do to take care of our mental, physical, emotional and spiritual health. Even when grieving the loss of someone, it is important to find ways to take care of ourselves. Many cultures and religions have recommendations for this period of time including prayers, readings or exercises. Allowing yourself to do things that you enjoy does not mean that you are selfish, forgetting the person who’s passed, or don’t care. It simply means that you are taking time for yourself as part of the grieving process.
Examples of self-care options:
· Playing or Listening to Music
Remember, emotions are not meant to be kept in… if you feel like crying, then cry; if you feel you need to vent…then vent; if you feel angry… then find a positive, constructive way to release that anger.
Moving Forward Doesn’t Mean Forgetting
We are resilient people. We have the ability to multitask, deal with adversity and succeed. Losing a loved one is a major undertaking and one that should not be taken lightly. Allow yourself to mourn and take the necessary time to do it in the way(s) that you need to. Remember that even in adversity we often find strength from others and in helping others. When the time is right for you, start by focusing on those around you and what you can do for them, for yourself and the ways you can use the spirit and strength of the one(s) you’ve lost to help do that.
“Moving forward doesn’t mean that you forget about things. It just means you have to accept what happens and continue living.” (Author Unknown)
Michael S. Phillips is a licensed mental health counselor who specializes in working with children, adolescents and adults dealing with stress, anxiety, depression, substance use, grief & loss, post traumatic stress, medical problems, as well as the use of biofeedback therapy. Mr. Phillips holds certifications as a level two anger management specialist from the National Anger Management Association, and works with both mandated and voluntary clients, is trained in alcohol and substance abuse, and is a certified clinical traumatologist. Mr. Phillips is also the director of the Center for Coping Wellness Division. A certified instructor for numerous American Red Cross programs, and an expert in safety and wellness, he has presented programs throughout the
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