There is one experience that connects every one of us human beings together – and that is loss and grief. During this pandemic, people will be experiencing loss with varying degrees of grief. For some, sadly, it will be multiple loss: a loved one to COVID-19, a loss of employment, financial loss, as well as the general feeling of loss of our social interactions. Feelings of grief are usually associated with the death of a loved one and the dictionary describes grief as “intense sorrow, especially caused by someone’s death.” The definition is true, and in my experience both personally and working with many clients over the years, the feelings of loss and grief covers so much more. It’s about change, and when something changes, we lose something. The loss of childhood, adolescence, changing schools, changing jobs, the end of a relationship, the loss of what was normal - any kind of separation.
And of course, for nearly a year now, we’ve all been separated from each other in one way or another. This in itself is causing sorrow, sadness, fear, anger, guilt, isolation, depression, anxiety – the soup mix of emotions that make up grief. To add to that, there can be the thought of potential loss – what’s around the corner… will I keep my job… will I contract the virus…will my loved one contract it? Causing insecurity, instability, uncertainty, not feeling safe. This global and collective grief is something we’re not used to.
Historically and globally, whenever there’s been a national or international crisis, we see communities come together and support each other. It’s when we often see the best in people. Survival mode kicks in and we do what we have to do. And when it’s closer to home, we rally round and help that person. In my therapy practice, I often hear clients struggle with not knowing what to say to a bereaved person. I encourage them to just say “what do you need/is there anything I can do?” The grieving person may want a hug, to talk, practical help to ease their load - in the main we just want someone to be there, close by. Doesn’t this just tell you that people need people: the power of presence is priceless.
So, what can we do to ease the feelings, find meaning in suffering and manage the process?
· Know we’re all in this together – albeit in different boats - and that needs to be acknowledged and respected.
· Acknowledge and name the emotion you’re feeling, get it out in an appropriate and healthy way. The 5 main emotions are MAD, BAD, SAD, GLAD, SCARED. Feelings change, they’re in a state of flux, constantly shifting through us. Use the acronym NOW – Notice and Observe with Wisdom.
· Keep a gratitude diary – 5 things I’m grateful for each day.
· Find meaning from this situation, in terms of being humbled, being more grateful for basic needs being met, reassessing our values and principles. Appreciation of the simple things in life.
· Connect and talk to each other – have regular catch-ups with family, friends and colleagues. Telephone call, online video chat, text message – anything to keep in contact with each other.
· Say hello to people in the street and in shops – I’ve noticed far more people greeting me when I’m out. Even with masks on – we make eye contact and the eyes are smiling. Something simple, makes such a big difference.
· Read up on the grief curve – Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, American-Swiss Psychiatrist, a pioneer in grief and loss. Her books are inspiring and give hope, choice and meaning to challenging situations.
· Seek solitude in meditation, exercise, nature, reflection, books whatever helps.
· And remember, this situation will change, like everything else does and we will meet up with friends and family, we will cry, we will hug, we will laugh and think how strong and resilient us wonderful humans are!
If you are struggling with your mental health and feel you cannot cope, please seek counselling, see your GP, call Samaritans UK on 116 123 or call NHS 111 for advice and support.
Joanne Freeman is an accredited certified counsellor and guest writer at Superpow!