How to deal with grief in a pandemic

We hear from a psychologist

They say ‘grief is love with nowhere to go,’ but in lockdown, when we literally have nowhere to go, our grief may be heightened. These steps can help you equip yourself and your loved ones to deal with it. By coaching psychologist Megan Kennedy-Woodward and clinical psychologist Dr Patrick Kennedy-Williams.

These steps can help you equip yourself and your loved ones to deal with it. By coaching psychologist Megan Kennedy-Woodward and clinical psychologist Dr Patrick Kennedy-Williams.

Grief manifests differently for everyone.

Here are some common experiences of grieving:

🌷Denial: Our brains want to retreat from anything that could have a negative impact. We may reject bad news as a defense mechanism, allowing us to temporarily freeze and numb this big emotion to allow us time to process.

🌷Anger: We may feel intense frustration at our lack of control when we experience deep loss. This anger might be directed inwardly or externally. We may feel hatred at the injustice and direct this towards authority, a higher power, or life itself. We may even feel anger towards whom we are grieving.

🌷Bargaining: This is a retrospective time when we look back on all the things we ‘should have/ could have’ done differently. We think about ‘making deals’ with higher powers.

🌷Depression: When we start to resonate with the deep pain this event has brought we feel a heavy sadness. Some symptoms of this are disrupted sleep (difficulty falling asleep and waking), inability to concentrate, loss of appetite, tearfulness, and irritability.

🌷Acceptance: At this point, we now fully understand the reality of our loss and accept that things will now be different. Once we accept this we can begin to move forward.

This process is not necessarily linear and there is no timeline. One day we might feel depressed, the next day angry.

How does Covid-19 change things?

🌷Not being able to say goodbye. Though some loss is unexpected, we all hope we will be able to make peace with our loved ones. Phone calls may be our last interaction. If we cannot physically say goodbye, for our own mental wellbeing, it is useful to exernalise this conversation. Talk through what you would say to them if you could with someone, or write it down.

🌷Not being able to see your loved ones after loss. Even if your family isn’t the touchy-feely type, funerals are often well attended because human connection and support is really helpful through grief. When you are ready, pick up the phone and connect with your loved ones. Because friends may not be able to respond as they normally would (take you to the pub, bring food, sit up all night with you and hold your hand), letting people know what you need will help you get the support. If you aren’t sure what this is yet, that’s okay. When it comes to you, let it be known.

🌷The impact of your environment on grief. You might be social distancing in a flatshare, you may be left in a house that you occupied with someone who has passed away, constrained by government orders not to visit your surviving parent. Whatever the situation, accepting that this is not ‘normal’ is helpful.

🌷Magnification. Though there may be other things that deny us the space for grief, like taking care of children or someone. Or you may actually find yourself with a lot more time on your hands to think about loss. This may feel consuming and overwhelming.

What are some tips for navigating grief during lockdown?

1. Self-care. This is really important so that you remain well, eating, sleeping, limiting consumption of alcohol, and taking time for yourself will help mentally strengthen you to handle grief.

2. Exercise. If you are well and allowed to get some fresh air each day, do this to clear your head and change the scenery.

3. Routine. Making a plan each day is important. Putting a timeline in means that you will more likely commit to this schedule.

4. Journal. We may not always have someone we want to talk to, or they may not know what to say. So just getting all those thoughts swirling around in your head onto the page will help to form some clarity and peace.

5. Mental breaks. Just as we suggest having mental breaks from news and media during a crisis, having some mental breaks from grief is important. Reading or watching (a bit) of Netflix are both advised.

6. Letting go of guilt. Notice if you are feeling guilty and nod to it, but do not let it overwhelm you. Death is out of our control. We can always look back on what we ‘should’ have done, but it is more helpful to look forward with purpose, gratitude and compassion.

How can I support others through their grief?

Comforting someone through grief under normal circumstances can be difficult. In these uncertain times, their isolation may intensify this experience. Just being there (even if not physically) is the best thing you can do.

It’s okay to not know what to say. Honesty and sincerity are key. “I am so sorry to hear of this. This must be so difficult. I am here to talk.” works well.

And professional help is here.

🌷The Good Grief Trust

🌷The NHS

🌷Cruse Bereavement

By Coaching Psychologists Megan Kennedy-Woodard and Clinical Psychologist, Dr. Patrick Kennedy-Williams.