Processing Grief During a Pandemic.
The five stages of grief.
We often relate grief to death.
Grief, however, comes in more forms than just death.
What about processing grief during a pandemic?
I sat and I thought about the moments in my life where I felt consumed with grief where no death had taken place.
There were the months after our first daughter’s birth where I grieved the loss of my birth expectations. The loss of the birth I wanted, the loss of success I had expected and the loss of control I craved. I spent a long time in anger and depression before I could head into acceptance. In many ways I’m still trying to work through the acceptance of her birth story and come to a place of peace with it.
There were the weeks after the twins were born where I once again grieved the loss of my pregnancy and birth expectations. The loss of the birth I had once again wanted, the loss of stability suddenly thrust upon us, the loss of certainty I needed. Though I was thankful I had been through a birth previous to theirs as it made the entire situation a little easier to swallow, I spent a lot of time denying it. Denying how hard it was, denying how terrified I was, denying the emotional pain I had. Denying the anxiety that surfaced from having two small babies born prematurely and living in a hospital room day in and day out instead of at home with me. The anger that came alongside needing to pull myself in so many directions. The depression of feeling like I had failed.
In a broader picture I think I grieve the life I currently live. Not to say that I’m not happy with my life – I love my partner and I love my kids. I’m incredibly grateful for the house over our heads, the laughs that fill our days and the chances to be with our extended family that we didn’t have before. I am lucky, I am privileged and I am loved.
I do still feel a sadness and loss. I go through fazes where I grieve the freedom I gave up for the life of parenthood. I bargain with myself on all the experiences and memories we could have been making as a couple instead of the ones we make as a family. I feel the loss of moving and grow angry at the life we had in a different city. I have no shame in it – grief is a normal part of life.
Now, I grieve a lot. Most of us are grieving right now.
We are grieving parts of our lives we’ve currently lost. We are grieving the loss of freedom, the loss of comfort and the loss of stability. We’re grieving the schedules we knew and the income we trusted. We’re grieving the loss of love and physical contact. We’re grieving the loss of safety and security.
We are grieving a huge loss of control over our lives.
Grief is an overwhelming emotion. It can come in waves or it can loom over your head constantly. It can sneak in when you least expect it and live like a pit in your stomach. It can be heavy and consuming. It comes through as anxiety and depression. It comes through as sleepless nights and foggy brains. It comes through as sadness, fear and lashing out.
How does grief look in this pandemic?
Denial looks a lot like: This virus won’t affect us. This virus won’t be as bad as it was in other places. This virus is being exaggerated by the media. Only a few people are dying, our hospitals aren’t overwhelmed, we’ll be back to normal in a few weeks tops.
Anger looks a lot like: I can’t get my work done in this environment, you’re taking away my activities and freedom, I deserve more information, how dare you take away the playgrounds.
Bargaining looks a lot like: if I self-isolate for two weeks, then I can go back to normal right? I can take my kids away on a road trip as long as we self-isolate after, right? If I wear a mask and gloves then there’s absolutely no way I’ll be infected, right?
Sadness and depression look a lot like: I don’t know when this is going to end, I don’t know where my next paycheque is coming from, I miss my extended family, I miss going for playdates.
So, what does acceptance and processing grief during a pandemic look like?
This is my current life and I will figure out how to make it work for myself/my family.
Easier said than done, I know. But remember you aren’t alone in this. Each and every one of us will react to, process and work through grief in a different way but we’re all in this situation together. If we can name grief and understand what we’re feeling perhaps we can find the right ways to manage it. We can acknowledge we’re struggling and seek help. We can pin point what we’re missing the most and find an alternative to replace it.
If we can tune in to the fact we aren’t singular and alone in how we’re all feeling right now we can work together through it.
The Seven Stages of Grief
There’s a less common model of the stages of grief that contains seven steps instead of five. This model includes:
The upward turn: when the stages of anger and pain start to die down and you can feel a calm, relaxed state coming in.
Reconstruction and working through: when you can start to put your life back together and move forward.
Acceptance and hope: a feeling of acceptance and possibility in your future life.
I think this model relates better to how we processing grief during a pandemic .
The upward turn looks like: getting into a routine of hand washing and sanitizing, having the supplies and resources to keep kids occupied, starting to feel comfortable with video chat meetings.
Reconstruction and working through looks like: getting out of bed in the morning and getting ready for the day even if you aren’t leaving the house, understanding and expecting your kids energy levels will be off the meters, finishing projects around the house you had been putting off, finding new hobbies to keep yourself occupied.
Acceptance and hope look like: understanding this is a temporary discomfort, knowing there is a future where we’ve moved past the pandemic, creating goals and plans for when the pandemic ends.
Acknowledging our mental health and practicing self-care are important – even when we aren’t in a pandemic. Coping with anger, depression, sadness, anxiety – it’s all a personal and singular experience even if we all may be feeling similar. What can help one person through it won’t necessarily help another. Some may be good with a nap or a soak in a bath while others may need therapy or medication. So how do we work through grief as a community?
How do we figure out and seek what we need?
I’m no expert on processing grief during a pandemic , but I’ll start with this: breathe. Take a few deep breaths, relax your tense shoulders and drink a glass of water. Close your eyes and let the tension building up leave your body and do this a few times a day. We’re going to be okay and we’re going to move past this.
But breathing and relaxing is a band-aid fix to a bigger wound. So, we acknowledge we need help and we speak up and work together to figure out the answers.
Reach out to the family and friends you miss. Set up phone call dates and video call meet ups. Bring back snail mail and send each other little surprises. Order care packages to each other, order UberEATS and eat the same meal on a video call. Play bored games together from your own homes.
Find virtual versions of the activities you used to do. The internet is swarmed with YouTube content, live videos and virtual classes for almost everything we used to do. Your dance teachers, yoga instructors, fitness gurus, teachers, art instructors… They’re working hard to push out the content you’re craving.
Unplug for a while. I don’t know about you but I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s screen time has skyrocketed. Put down the phone, turn off Netflix and find a hobby or activity to occupy you. Personally I’ve started doing puzzles again and baking more.
Keep up with the housework. Do the laundry, wash the dishes and vacuum the floors. All of these might seem like nothing but small, daunting tasks. But if you do all of these tasks you’ll suddenly have a list of things you’ve accomplished and can feel good about.
Most of all: don’t shy away from therapy. Many therapists are offering phone call and video chat options. It’s not weak to ask for help – it makes you a stronger person for doing it.
Grief is an absolutely overwhelming emotion. It’s not hard to start to feel like you’re sinking. Check in with your co-workers, your friends and your family. Be open with each other and speak truthfully about how each of you’re doing. There’s no reason for any of us to feel like we shouldn’t be feeling grief right now.
Let yourself feel and acknowledge that grief so you can work on processing grief during a pandemic it and keep on going.