Grief in the Time of COVID-19, by Susan Angel Miller
Grief is painful and exhausting during normal times. And now, with the social distancing restrictions of the pandemic, mourners might feel as if they’re walking a tightrope without a safety net.
In an effort to stem the spread of the virus, family members are being prevented from sitting at the bedsides of their dying relatives. Tears come to my eyes when I imagine spouses and children having to say goodbye to their loved ones through a video call. Or, having to stand six feet apart at the gravesite. An absence of physical and emotional support when it’s needed the most.
I still remember the dizzying emotions, more than a decade ago, when my 14-year old daughter Laura was rushed to the hospital and diagnosed with a cancerous brain tumor. When she was declared brain dead four days later, we were stunned. Our previous life assumptions had been shattered, and the world unrecognizable.
We had suffered every parent’s worst nightmare. We could have crawled under the covers and wallowed in our misery, but we still had two daughters to parent. Sara and Rachel had already lost their older sister, they didn’t also deserve to lose our love and daily attention.
We stumbled through the first few days and weeks by relying on age-old grief observances and focusing on the things we could control.
Here are some hard-earned grief and loss insights that apply in both ordinary and extraordinary times.
Focus on Emotional and Physical Basics
My grief therapist often reminded me that there’s no right or wrong way to grieve. She encouraged me to prioritize my own wellbeing — to put on my own airplane oxygen mask first — so that I’d have enough energy to meet my family’s emotional needs.
I tried to follow the acronym HALT – not get too Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired. Eat healthy foods. Acknowledge my emotions without judging them. Reach out to friends. Take naps when all else fails.
Give Yourself Permission to Feel What You’re Feeling
I would need to accept the feelings of despair – as well as the unexpected moments of joy. I could tear up when seeing a photo of Laura and also be happy that it reminded me of her. Conflicting emotions can be experienced at the same time. One does not cancel out the other.
I learned that feelings – especially the most painful ones – must be felt in order to transition from grief to a place of eventual acceptance.
I wanted to be self-sufficient, but my sorrow was too overpowering and disorienting to say no to well-meaning friends and family.
I readily accepted friends’ offers to pick up groceries and bring over dinner. Meals still can be left at a cooler placed at your back door.
When I would become especially low, I would text or phone friends.These same options exist today. Physical distancing shouldn’t prevent healing human interactions.
Talk About Your Loved One and Record Your Memories
I mentioned Laura’s name often and talked about her with anyone who would listen. I was (and still am) her proud mom.
I’m grateful for having scribbled down thoughts about Laura in those first few weeks. And, by struggling with the meaning of Laura’s death and creating my memoir Permission to Thrive, I better understand the therapeutic benefits of writing. It’s actually been shown to decrease anxiety and provide a sense of the person being present.
Create Private Rituals and Celebrate Your Loved Ones’ Life
I’d encourage you to share the news of your loved one’s death with your circle of friends and family and make plans to hold a memorial service when allowed.
Right now we can remember our loved ones in private ways – lighting a candle, meeting up with family and friends virtually, or bringing up their name in normal conversation.
Grief is not a linear path. Like the children’s game Chutes and Ladder, some days we move ahead on the board and on others we stumble and fall down the slide. On these darkest days though we have to remind ourselves that at least we’re courageous enough to “play the game”.
Regardless of what’s happening around us, now or in the future, we all have the capacity to survive, and even thrive, through the choices we make.
Susan Angel Miller is the author of the memoir Permission to Thrive [https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07LDZK645]. She lives in Milwaukee with her husband Ron; they are the proud parents of Sara, Rachel, and their forever-beloved Laura. Here she shares some hard-earned grief and loss insights that apply in both ordinary and extraordinary times. In her own words…”
Following the death of my teenage daughter Laura and my own health crisis, I craved a roadmap to help me navigate a world I no longer recognized. Sharing my story with friends and then writing my memoir allowed me to craft a narrative I could live with. I eventually gave myself permission to grieve, survive, and even thrive.
As you read through my website and learn about my experiences, I hope you’ll gain faith in your own capacity to move forward when bad events happen.
I’m on a mission to help others respond to life’s unpredictable and unpreventable challenges as well as offer practical ideas for supporting loved ones facing loss and adversity.
This article appeared in the IMAGINE website.
Imagine, A Center for Coping with Loss, is a grief support center for children, young adults and families dealing with the death or life-altering illness of a parent, sibling or child. We provide free peer grief support year-round for as long as is needed. We are currently serving over 440 participants from 59 NJ towns at our Mountainside and Newark centers every two weeks. In addition to these services, we provide training through our education and outreach programs across the state to a variety of organizations including schools, houses of worship and corporations. We also provide onsite support after any trauma or loss. Our goal is to create communities where grief and loss are transformed into resilience, empathy and compassion; and create communities where no child grieves alone. To visit Imagine, click the logo below.
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