The COVID-19 virus is presenting huge challenges for our world, with most countries reporting infections and some deaths, and some countries reporting many thousands of lives that have been lost. These are the statistics of a pandemic – an acceleration of infections worldwide, community transmission and the resultant deaths of many precious lives.
None of us really sit on the side-lines of the world, however, where we can watch the exponential acceleration of the spread of the virus like a spectator. The pain produced by the loss of life starts affecting all of us as fellow citizens and may impact our experience deeply if family or friends succumb to the disease. How do we cope with this pain and grief when we, too, are extremely anxious about our own health and safety?
Bereavement, and the resultant emotional expression of grief, is a common experience for all human beings. Grief is the natural response to pain and loss for people – a process through which a person goes to work through the pain and loneliness of loss. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, in her book: “On Death and Dying” – 1969, proposed five stages of grief (denial and isolation, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance) through which people go when facing terminal illness. Although not empirically demonstrated, I mention them here because they may be helpful for you to recognise what you might be experiencing, although all humans experience grief differently.
In an enforced COVID-19 lockdown situation, which many of us are experiencing currently, the grief process becomes even more challenging. With no movement between homes allowed, family members can’t get together physically to provide comfort and support. Funerals are limited to just a few people, as large gatherings are off limits. We may feel very alone.
In such a situation where you are faced with the death of a loved-one or friend, the following points may be helpful:
- Give yourself the gift of time – be patient with the process, understanding that grief takes time to find resolution. There is no schedule for when you should feel certain emotions or be over others. You do not have to figure out how you will live the rest of your life – that will come at some stage, but does not have to be thought through immediately.
- Connect with those you love – in an enforced lockdown where physical presence is restricted, use available digital platforms to connect with family and friends. Of particular importance are the many options for video connection, where you can achieve eye contact and cry together if necessary. Isolation is not helpful.
- Don’t blame yourself – when the situation seems out of control, you can easily blame yourself, e.g. “if only I got her to the doctor earlier”, “we should not have gone to that event where she got infected”, etc. The point is that we can take all the necessary precautions, but still contract the disease – it is out of your control, so don’t blame yourself.
- Recognise that grief affects every part of your life – physical, emotional, psychological, spiritual, social, cultural, cognitive, philosophical and behavioural. Give each area time to heal. Talk often about what you are feeling in each of these areas. Pastors and counsellors may be particularly helpful in terms of being good listening ears.
- Work slowly towards acceptance – resistance stands in the way of making peace finally about your loss. Coping with loss is a deeply personal and singular experience – no-one can help you go through it more easily or understand all the emotions through which you are going, but they can walk with you on the journey to acceptance. Acceptance is the first step towards healing.
Bereavement has always been a reality in life, but now during COVID-19, the numbers of deaths are accelerating. Grief is the consequence for many – stay connected with those you love so that you can process your pain. Don’t resist assistance and don’t blame yourself. Work towards acceptance and healing.