Managing grief in the time of COVID-19
January 22, 2021
COVID-19 has brought death and dying to the center of our daily lives. More than 400,000 people have died in the U.S. and more than 2 million have died worldwide. The sad reality is that these numbers grow exponentially each day. We can only imagine the number of families and friends who have been impacted by loss.
Grief has a long and lasting effect on everyone, and the extent to which one is affected varies among individuals. There is no timetable for grieving. Experts agree that grief is classified into two categories. “Acute grief” typically lasts from six to 12 months. This is followed by “prolonged grief,” a more extended period of grieving that lasts beyond 12 months. In this phase, the grieving person may benefit from talking with a grief counselor to help them navigate through the process of grief.
Here are some steps that may help in managing grief:
Tune in to your source of strength.
You are genetically built with internal strengths, such as self-determination, hope and resilience. Thus, your source of strength is inside of you. The key is to tap into your source of strength by centering yourself to leverage your strength. Your source of strength may be prayer, meditation or yoga. Sources like these may help release agonizing tension, bring you a sense of calm and help to restore your inner strength. At the same time, some people may be so overwhelmed in their grief they require external sources of strength to supplement what they already possess. These might include support from family and positive friends, or sessions with a grief counselor.
Ignite your energy.
Someone who is grieving may experience a loss of appetite or turn to a “sugar diet” to feel better. This is a temporary fix that will eventually lead to a crash. Eating a healthy, balanced diet will restore your energy without the side effects from eating too much sugar. If cooking is too much of a chore, I recommend preparing smoothies with your favorite fruit, protein powder and flax seeds. These smoothies are not only energizing, but can be fun to make. Imagine the taste and color of mango and pineapple blended together, or the zesty citrus taste of oranges, lemons and cranberries. Remember you must feed your brain. It requires a constant supply of nutrients because your brain is always at work even when you are sleeping.
Work out/walk it out.
Researchers have discovered that exercising or walking is a viable treatment for reducing sadness and fatigue for those who are grieving. They have also discovered that exercising or walking restores a sense of well-being, mobile functioning and energy that is often lost because of grief. Studies have found that engaging in a body-mind program decreases mental and physical stress. This kind of program serves as a new coping mechanism and when performed with a partner or in a group, it provides the social support needed to help with grief-related stress.
Take on a new task.
The loss of a loved one cannot be replaced by anyone or anything. However, loss does present us with an opportunity to create new traditions, new rituals and engage in new tasks. Post-traumatic growth can foster positive psychological changes and helps you grow beyond your grief. Taking on a new task can help you begin the process of coping with your loss, shift your thinking from a negative realm to a more positive one and counteract emotional distress.
While it is not uncommon to want to be alone when your loved one dies, support systems are important to those who are grieving. Support systems not only include close family members and friends, but can also include grief support groups or individual professional grief counseling. Communication is key to coping, and sometimes talking to someone who has experienced loss can be a powerful healer. Whatever method you choose to stay connected should be based on what makes you feel comfortable.
Grieving is emotionally draining, and this often leads to sleepless nights. To wind down, you must set the mood. Music, chamomile tea and a hot bath can help relax you for a good night’s sleep. Music will soothe your soul, the chamomile tea sends signals to the brain and decreases your anxiety, and a hot bath relaxes the tense muscles in your body. In a recent study, scientists discovered that healthy habits create healthy results. Therefore, a grief strategic plan is necessary for the self-care you need to wind down.
Live their legacy.
Honoring loved ones or memorializing them is a common practice. At funerals, friends and family members often share words of endearment or stories associated with their relationship with their loved ones. Co-workers may dress up their colleague’s work station, create candy stalls or display photos around the office to celebrate shared life. Since grieving is a lifelong reality and takes on many forms, living your loved one’s legacy fosters their eternal existence. Some examples include starting a foundation, a college fund or being an organ donor. As a chaplain, I have often shared stories of my late father and brother as a way of living their legacy. Sharing these fond memories has allowed me to live their legacy with others. The key to living the legacy of your loved one is to choose how you want them to be remembered. The final takeaway is to know that death is not the final chapter, but the beginning of a new reality.
For more reading materials on grief, visit Rev. Hoskins' blog at www.drarnoldhoskins.com.