Grief is most often associated with the death of a loved one, but the reality is there are many losses that can cause us to experience grief.
I can’t help but notice that with the current pandemic, there have been many losses and the world is grieving.
People have lost jobs and businesses, families have lost time with one another, weddings have been cancelled, students have missed proms and graduations. People are grieving not being able to go out and about and do “normal” life.
Each loss is being felt, but have we recognized that we are grieving?
I believe that if we can recognize the stages of grief that we are going through, and understand how to navigate the grieving process, it will help preserve and protect our mental and emotional well-being.
The Stages of Grief
Elizabeth Kubler Ross was a Psychiatrist who specialized in the grieving process, and developed the Five Stages of Grief Model. These stages are Denial, Bargaining, Anger, Depression, and Acceptance.
Let’s apply these stages to the current pandemic.
We are in shock and disbelief, is this really happening? Denial is an attempt to suppress painful emotions. With the pandemic, and with all the closures that rapidly started to happen around the globe, perhaps many of us were initially in denial thinking this was blown out of proportion.
All the emotions we had been suppressing return to the surface, coming on strong. However, instead of sadness they show up as anger because anger is less painful than sadness.
I think it is fair to say many people are angry with all that is going on in the world. All you have to do is look on social media, or stand in a grocery store line-up, to see this anger first-hand. This anger does not mean people are bad, it is a stage of grief and is a normal part of the process.
This is the “what if” and “if only stage”. This is when we ask what could have been done to prevent the loss.
In the case of coronavirus we ask, “what if the government had handled this better?”, "what if the borders had been closed sooner?", among many other things. This is an attempt to regain control because we feel like we have lost control. We need someone or something to blame.
The extent and depth of the loss starts to hit home.
With Covid-19, people are starting to realize how much they are missing social and physical connections with others.
People can go into depression after retirement because their day-to-day identity has changed so suddenly. With quarantine and people being forced out of work, this identity shift (and accompanying depression) has happened on a global scale.
This is when we come to terms with the loss. It doesn’t mean everything is better, or that I am perfectly okay. It means I am having more good days then bad, and I feel at peace with the loss.
Do any of these stages hit home? Do you see yourself in any of these stages? Are you in the grieving process? If so, let's not stop there. I have some strategies to help navigate this grief.
First, Some Things to Keep in Mind:
Grief is not linear and it is not a neat and tidy process. We don't necessarily flow from one stage to the next in a chronological order.
Grief is more like a roller coaster with ups and downs, good days and bad days.
Another thing to keep in mind is that myself and many other people in the mental health field believe there is a 6th stage to the grieving process: Meaning Making.
Healing includes finding purpose and finding meaning. We need to make meaning out of great losses. So, how can we find meaning with the current pandemic?
Could it be that it is causing us to reevaluate life, on global scale?
Is it that we are learning the value of friends and family, like never before?
Is it that we are learning ways to find meaningful connection, even if we can’t be in the same room?
We are not going to just “get over this”. We are going to learn from the experience and move forward with what we have learned. We are going to gain strength and resilience. Could this be the meaning?
So what do we do about our grief?
Here are some ways to navigate the grieving process:
1. Acknowledge the grief
Just recognizing that we are grieving can lift a burden and feel like taking in a deep breath. Something shifts when we acknowledge the grief.
2. Allow yourself to feel the grief
If we fight and resist grief, grieving will happen eventually in one way or another. It is much easier on our emotions and on our body if we don’t resist it and embrace the difficult feelings.
3. Be good to yourself
Grieving takes a great deal of energy. If you are feeling lethargic, it could be because you are grieving. So take care of yourself and be kind to yourself.
4. Remember that grief is a roller coaster
Give yourself permission to have good days and bad. By giving yourself permission, you will move through the grieving process with fewer bumps and bruises.
5. Connect with others as much as you can
Find creative ways to engage with friends and family. We grieve better in community than we do alone.
6. Look for purpose and meaning
Find meaning and then you will find hope.
What will our legacy be?
When we look back a year or two from now, my hope is that we will have left a legacy of moving forward despite tremendous obstacles.