by Linda Donovan
There’s no right or wrong way to cope with loss, especially now. In fact, you may experience many different emotions at the same time, such as sadness, anger, confusion, and guilt. Having these different emotions is normal, so go easy on yourself. You’ve been through a lot.
So much has changed in grief support strategies since Elisabeth Kübler-Ross explained what at the time was considered the stages of grief in her book On Death and Dying, published in 1969. She identified these stages as denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.
These stages don’t occur in any particular order. Not everyone experiences all of them, and sometimes people go back and forth from one stage to another. Did you know that the Kübler-Ross approach was originally designed to help dying patients and later became a model for survivors?
Over time, however, the Kübler-Ross model has changed in the grief support community to focus more on tending to grief. This involves working through tasks related to accepting the reality of loss, experiencing the pain, and adjusting to living without that person while still maintaining a connection with them through your memories and through others.
The pandemic has added another layer of complexity in managing loss. You might have experienced post-traumatic stress—coping with loss compounded by the complexity, uncertainty, and isolation caused by the pandemic. The time of COVID-19 has been characterized as an ongoing traumatic event that has exacerbated the grief process and made it more complicated.
There’s another type of grief that Kübler-Ross identified, known as anticipatory grief. If the person you lost was terminally ill or had another serious medical problem, along with COVID-19 symptoms, you may have also experienced anticipatory grief before they died.
Anticipatory grief, just like grief after loss, can cause you to be distracted and to have trouble making decisions and concentrating. You may struggle with basic tasks, experience sleeplessness, and overeat or undereat. Losing someone or watching that person decline is painful and a lot to process. Go easy on yourself! It may feel like your world has turned upside down, and it takes time to put it back.
Anticipatory grief can lead to behaviors that aren’t normal for you—behaviors related to grief. That’s why, for many people, the mourning process begins before someone dies. For example, it may start when your loved one is diagnosed with a terminal illness or debilitating disease or exhibits signs of dementia. Or if your relative or friend was taken to a hospital with COVID-19 symptoms, your grieving might have begun as soon as they were admitted.
Some people who tested positive but were asymptomatic or who had moderate symptoms had to watch others close to them struggle for many weeks before passing away. As a survivor, you may have had to grapple with anticipatory grief during this struggle. When you couple that with the fear that you might become very sick or even die as well, it’s scary.
This level of anticipatory grief for others and for yourself can be traumatic. It can put you in the mode of “I’ll get through each day minute-by-minute,” or it can cause tremendous anxiety, depression, and mental paralysis. If this happened to you, understand that you’re not alone. Anticipatory grief, combined with the fear of how COVID-19 could affect your own health and the well-being of others around you, creates a level of uncertainty and chaos along with survivor’s guilt.
Ask for Help
As you work your way through grief, particularly if you have the help of a trained professional who understands what you’re dealing with, then it should become less difficult for you to adjust to the reality of the loss and its traumatic impact. Even if you can’t meet in person, having a virtual meeting with a trained professional can make the difference between being able to adapt, evolve, and reengage or to remain stuck. So don’t be afraid to ask for help.
Although you may be experiencing the pain of grief, you’ll discover that it should diminish over time when you get the necessary help to guide you along this unwanted journey. Of course, certain triggers can cause you to temporarily move a few steps back, just as you’re trying to move ahead without the person who died and find a way to maintain your memories of them. Over time, you’ll learn to adapt to this loss while carrying the memory of this person in your heart.
Learn more in my latest book, Beyond Loss in a Pandemic: Find Hope and Move Through Grief After Someone Close to You Dies.
Visit my website: https://lindadonovanbooks.com
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