Grieving Alone and Together

 

Grieving in a Pandemic

Grief is our emotional response to loss. While grief is a universal experience and all of us will experience grief many times over the course of our lives, every grief experience is also unique. There is no “wrong” or “right” way to grieve because your emotions reflect both your special relationship to your loved one and the circumstances of their death.

Losing a loved one in the midst of this pandemic is a traumatic experience. If we lose someone suddenly, or if we were not able to be with them while they were dying, our grief responses are complicated by the traumatic nature of the loss.

Grief following a loved one’s death can be complicated during this public health crisis because we are all experiencing non-death losses at the same time. Some may be concrete and easy to identify, such as financial or employment insecurity and lack of social interaction. Other losses might be harder to recognize, like no longer having the comfort of our normal routines or freedom of movement in public spaces.

We may also be experiencing the losses of our “assumptive world” – the set of core beliefs that stabilize, ground, and orient us and make us feel secure in our daily lives. Pandemic, like other forms of traumatic and mass casualty events, can threaten our belief that the world is, or ever will be, a safe and secure place.

You might feel that your grief isn’t being recognized and supported as it would have been if your loved one had died at another time because everyone is currently experiencing non-death losses. While you grieve your loved one, try to recognize and validate the other losses you are experiencing as a way of making sense of how these losses impact one another for you personally.

In addition to other complications to grieving the loss of a loved one during this pandemic, survivors are at risk of experiencing disenfranchised grief. Anyone suffering a loss whose grief is not openly acknowledged, socially validated, or publicly observed can experience disenfranchised grief, including survivors in a pandemic. When the number of people who die of a single virus is extremely high, one may feel that their loved one’s death is not receiving attention or is only being treated as a statistic.

If you were unable to be with your loved one while they were sick or could not be with them when they died, you may feel robbed or cheated of time with them in their end-of-life moments. You may feel angry that the coronavirus pandemic required protocols that kept you from being at their side, and you may feel disoriented in beginning to mourn while wrestling with these circumstances. All of these feelings are justified, and nothing about your experience was deserved.

There are no words possible to erase the pain you may be feeling at not being with your loved one during their death, but it can be helpful to remember that a life is far more than its endpoint. The life of your loved one was made up of millions of moments, including moments of laughter, happiness, and joy, many of which you shared with them. Remembering these shared moments might help you remind yourself that you carry your whole relationship with your loved one with you as you move forward with your grief.

Right now, you may feel upset on behalf of your loved one because they had to die without the benefit of family and friends at their side. That feeling is understandable. Know, though, that they did not die alone. Their death was witnessed and felt by compassionate nurses, doctors, and other healthcare professionals who sought to surround them with care and comfort. And, importantly, they died while wrapped in the love they felt for you and from you throughout their life.

This is an excerpt of the article “Grieving Alone and Together: Responding to the Loss of Your Loved One During the COVID-19 Pandemic” by Sara Murphy, PhD, CT. A link to the full article and brochure download is available at https://www.rememberingalife.com/covid-19/grief-during-the-pandemic/covid-19-grief-guide.

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