What can help with grief and loss during Covid-19?

What can help with grief and loss during Covid-19?

Charity Garnett is a palliative care nurse working in mid-Wales. She has been working to improve community support for people who are grieving. Her dad died when she was 15, so she knows the grieving ground well. She shares her professional advice on what to be prepared for when you’re grieving and a guide to what can help, especially during Covid-19.

From numbness to guilt and everything in between: common responses to grief

Grieving is a normal process following the death of someone we love. However, with the effects of the pandemic, we may need to adjust our usual coping strategies and the ways that we mourn. We may also need extra support.

Most of the ways that we usually cope with grief as individuals and as communities may not be possible for a while — for example, getting together to remember the person who has died, hugs or handshakes, getting out in nature, going to religious gatherings, or families and communities getting together in large groups.

We all experience grief in our own way. However, there are some feelings and reactions that many people experience:

  • Numbness and disbelief— “it hasn’t really happened”.
  • Feeling very weepy or being unable to cry at all.
  • Feelings of anger towards others or the situation.
  • Thinking you have seen or heard the person or searching for them.
  • Anxiety, loneliness, depression or feelings of “I can’t cope”.
  • Feelings of guilt. We might feel worried that their death was in some way our fault.
  • Difficulty sleeping, eating, concentrating, and finding your memory affected.
  • Feeling physically low and concerned about your health.
  • Regret about all the plans and dreams that you had before.
  • Challenges to your beliefs.
  • Low motivation for doing anything. Even taking basic care of yourself can feel like a huge challenge.
  • Finding everyday situations and relationships difficult to cope with.

“Grief is love with nowhere to go”: what helps us grieve

Grieving is a gradual process that can take a long time, it’s important that you give yourself space to grieve and take care of yourself. It’s normal to feel like you are doing better, then feel like you’ve gone back to square one again. Grief can come in waves, you may feel okay one minute and then very low the next. You can also have good days and bad days.

Sometimes, if you had a challenging relationship with the person who has died, it can be more, not less, difficult. You may be grieving the relationship you wish that you’d had, as well as the person who has died. The best advice is to be where you are, and don’t think you should be feeling anything different to what you are feeling.

Here are some suggestions for things that may help:

  • Make a special place in your house or garden where you can remember the person who has died. It helps to have a physical space that can be a focus for your love, and your grief. You can put pictures of your person and anything else that was special to them there. Lighting a candle can also be a physical reminder of your love for them.
  • Reach out to friends and family. It is so important to talk about it, even if it is on the phone, or through a window, or online.
  • If it is not possible to have a normal funeral or memorial service, see if you can gather online. You could also ask everybody who would have attended to light a candle or listen to a piece of music at the same time so you can still find a way of connecting emotionally.
  • People will want to help but may not know what to say or do – tell them. “Please can I talk about what happened?” or, “please can we talk about something normal or distract me.” Ask for what you need, there is no right or wrong approach.
  • Write a journal. Writing your feelings down can help to give them shape and movement. Singing or drawing pictures of how you are feeling can also help give the feelings a channel. Grief needs to move.
  • Grief and trauma are felt in the body as much as the mind. Try to move your body in any way that feels good. Stretching, yoga, exercise, dancing, even just a little bit, can help emotions seem less “stuck”.
  • You may feel that you didn’t get a chance to say goodbye properly or say all the things you wanted to. Writing a letter to the person who has died can create an opportunity to express those feelings.
  • Sometimes anger is easier to feel than grief. The death of a relative or friend can affect families very strongly, and misunderstandings are easy, especially if you are communicating by telephone or text message. Try to give each other the benefit of the doubt, and avoid arguments if possible.
  • Spend time with or in nature, even if it is just through the window, maybe looking at how it changes all the time. This time will pass too.
  • Meditation, mindfulness, or any other spiritual practice can help bring perspective and comfort and help the feelings be less overwhelming.
  • Trying to keep some kind of routine can be helpful. Try to eat regularly even if you don’t feel hungry and try to keep a sleep rhythm. Small achievable tasks can help, but don’t expect too much of yourself.
  • Plan for what you will do when you are able to go out again — both to remember the person and also any places you want to visit to remember them .
  • Don’t push yourself into major decisions if possible — there are no right times for doing anything, only your own pace.
  • Don’t rush to dispose of or distribute clothing and possessions — do this when you feel ready.
  • Try to let children share your grief and encourage them to express their feelings. Talking, reading, drawing and playing games can be helpful.
  • Plan for anniversaries, such as Christmas and birthdays, and the anniversary of your person’s death.
  • Recall happy memories — this may be painful, but can also be comforting. Looking at photographs and keeping personal mementoes may help.
  • Be gentle with yourself.

You may feel very alone or lonely. We are all in this together and we, as a community, will do whatever we can to support you. If it becomes difficult for you to manage day-to-day tasks, you may wish to seek professional help from your GP or other relevant organisations.

It may not be possible for the funeral to be held as you might have hoped for in normal times. But once it is safe for people to meet together again, we will try to find ways of honouring your grief and your love.

For more from Charity Garnett follow her on Twitter @charitygarnett3.

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