Understanding Grief During The Pandemic

By:  Therese Schoeneck, Founder and Executive Director, HOPE for Bereaved, Inc.

We are living in a challenging time, never having gone through a pandemic before.  It can be scary, full of anxiety.  The COVID-19 Coronavirus has led to many changes in our lives.  Our daily normal has been replaced by a time of isolation.  This leaves people to mourn alone without a hug or even the presence of their loved ones.  This may lead to an additional level of stress and extended grieving.

Understanding Grief
Grief is the natural response to the death of a loved one.  Grief hurts!  Usually people are not prepared for the emotional, physical, spiritual pain and intense feelings.  Bereaved may experience shock, crying, anxiety, panic, depression, guilt, lowered self-esteem and anger.  Unresolved grief may lead to emotional and physical problems, drug abuse and may affect relationships within the family.  Grief often takes much longer than the bereaved or people in their lives expect.

Avoiding grief only postpones recovery.  Unfortunately when a loved one dies the reality of social distancing may lead to potential extended grief.  Viewings, wakes, Shiva’s and memorial gatherings may be cancelled or limit the attendees.  This leaves the bereaved unable to receive the personal support from their extended families, friends and co-workers.

Helping Yourself Through Grief
Realize that the death of a loved one during the pandemic will be different.  Less support will be available for extended family, friends and co-workers.  You need to look for ways to help yourself and to be helped.  It is your choice and tribute to your loved one to survive and grow from your grief.

Take Steps to Help Yourself
Call HOPE’s helpline 315-475-HOPE (4673) for a listener or to request the HOPEline, our free monthly newsletter.  Attend one of HOPE’s support groups (in person when HOPE is open or by Zoom/Conference Call.)

  • Take time to grieve each day … to cry … to talk about how you feel
  • Be Patient With Yourself
  • Treat yourself as you would a grieving friend
  • Take one day, one hour, 15 minutes at a time
  • Ask for And Accept Help
  • Find someone with whom you may talk freely (an understanding friend, another bereaved person or call HOPE to make an appointment with a counselor (in person or by phone)
  • Pray to the person who died
  • Call your local 24 hour hotline

Accept Your Feelings
Thinking that you are going crazy is a normal reaction.  Usually you feel better after a “Good Cry.”  The chemical makeup of tears of grief is different than other tears.  Evidence shows crying is healthy for you physically and emotionally.  Cry when you need to; laugh when you can; it’s okay to be angry.  Don’t push it down.  Let it out – beat rugs, exercise, and hit a pillow.  Be aware of depression – – don’t withdraw.  If it becomes severe seek professional counseling.

Lean Into The Pain … you can’t go over, under or around it … you must go through it  …  Keep working on your grief … Be careful of alcohol or prescription drugs.  Caution:  Alcohol is a depressant; prescriptions often just mask the pain.

Be Good To Yourself
Find a good listener(s)  …  Consider keeping a journal, write about your feelings … if possible postpone major decisions … Try to get adequate rest, eat well and exercise often … try to make your expectations of yourself and others realistic …Put balance in your life; pray, rest, work, read, exercise.

Remember you are not alone.  HOPE FOR BEREAVED is here for you.  Others have felt devastated but with work, determination, faith and friends, they are now leading fulfilling lives.  Hold onto HOPE.  Your grief will soften and eventually you will make peace with your grief and enjoy life and the people in your life.

Be Grateful
Find one new reason to be grateful for each day.  Always be grateful for the dedication of front line medical personnel who risk their lives, firemen, security, police, store clerks, bus drivers, truckers, food banks and many others.  Need to create and develop meaning in our lives, Remember Every Day is a Gift.

Helping Others with Grief
Your help and understanding can make a significant difference for someone who is grieving especially during the pandemic.  Funeral rituals are being delayed or replaced at a

future date leaving the bereaved without much needed support from extended family, friends and co-workers.  Helpful suggestions: LISTEN … LISTEN … LISTEN

One of the best ways you can help is to LISTEN.  Realize the bereaved need to talk.  Don’t force or change the conversation or give advice.  They may repeat often but that is how they learn to believe the reality of the death.  If they ask ‘why’ it is a cry of pain and doesn’t require an answer – just a listener.  “If you feel like talking, I’d like to listen.”  KEEP LISTENING.

Reach Out Regularly
Even though you can’t help your grieving friend in person reach out by mail, text, phone, email or virtual visits through FaceTime, Skype or Zoom.  Keep in touch frequently, send thinking of you cards; a package with self-care items, like a journal, adult coloring book, restaurant gift card (include delivery cost), HOPE’s book or brick in the Butterfly Garden of HOPE.

Validate Their Feelings
Recognize that the bereaved know how they feel.  Don’t try to talk them out of their feelings, distract them or fix their grief.  Acknowledge whatever they are feeling is normal.  Realize grief may take a longtime.  Avoid clichés.  They rarely console and may upset the bereaved.

Accept Them
Do not be uncomfortable with their tears which are a good emotional release.  Be available if the bereaved want to talk about their depression, anger, guilt and more.  It is helpful for them.  Be patient with things said or done by the bereaved.  Anger, withdrawal and denial are normal aspects of grief.  Be aware that the bereaved’s self-esteem may be very low.

Practical Help
Make your offer specific, e.g. running errands, picking up groceries, mowing their lawn, etc.  These must be done within the CDC guidelines of wearing a mask and social distancing.  It is not helpful to say “Call me if there is anything I can do.”  The bereaved are often too immobilized to know what they need or to call for such help.

Be Thoughtful
Give a plant … Remember special days ~ birthday, anniversary of death and holidays with a card and/or call.  Order HOPE’s Book:  HOPE for Bereaved:  Understanding, Coping and Growing Through Grief to give to your grieving friend or read to understand what your friend is experiencing.

Your friendship and Support are Important.
LISTEN, tell them that you care.