Losing a loved one & grieving during a pandemic

Dealing with the loss of a loved one is a distressing time and can be increasingly difficult during a time of uncertainty, lockdowns and restrictions. Navigating your way through death, grief, funeral arrangements and self-care can leave you feeling lost and overwhelmed. Below are some tips from our administration officer, Emily Rose Viler, about dealing with the grief of losing a loved one during a pandemic.

Funeral arrangements and not being able to go to your loved one’s place of rest:

  • The current restrictions placed on funerals can make saying goodbye to your loved one profoundly different and difficult. It is important to recognise that the situation is completely out of our control and to focus on the aspects that we can control. It may be helpful to speak with funeral directors and family to discuss different ways of planning for the service.
  • Don’t feel guilty for not being able to do the service that you wanted or not being able to visit your loved one at their place of rest. Instead, remind yourself that doing the best you can in the current situation and circumstances is okay and enough.
  • When you can’t visit your loved one’s place of rest, remember that they are always with you no matter where you are, what you are doing or where you go.

Looking after yourself:

  • Reach out for support: grieving during a pandemic can make you feel even more isolated and alone with your thoughts and feelings, so it’s important to have support people that you trust and can talk to unload some of the heaviness of grief. Keep in touch with family and friends by arranging regular calls and check-ins, joining an online support group, or speaking to your GP or therapist.
  • Self-care: this may be the last thing you feel like doing but it is important to continue to care for and nurture yourself. It can feel overwhelming and impossible to get through each day so it’s important to take care of yourself and try keeping to a routine that you can follow each day so you don’t have to think about what your day will look like or what you’re going to do each day. Instead you can focus on getting through the present moment and planning in bite sizes rather than a mouth full. If having or creating a routine feels too much, it’s okay to just wake up and get through each day. If that means staying in bed and watching tv that’s okay, getting through each day is the priority and whatever that looks like is okay.
  • It’s okay to take time away from work or studying. Don’t feel pressure and put expectations on yourself to get back into things straight away. It’s important to allow yourself time to grieve and process your loss.
  • Check your thinking: this is important as our thoughts and ways of thinking affect what we do, how we do it and how we feel. In a very emotional and overwhelming situation where we feel we don’t have a lot of control, our thinking can take over and make us feel worse. Having regular check-ins with yourself and asking, “what am I thinking” or “what are my thoughts trying to tell me” can help us notice and have an awareness of our thoughts.
  • There is no timeline with grief and there is no “right” way to grieve. We are all different people, with different ways of thinking and processing things, different perspectives and different life experiences, so it’s impossible for us to all grieve the same way. Don’t compare yourself to how other people are feeling or grieving.
  • Don’t be hard on yourself or put yourself down for not crying all the time or not feeling a certain way or even having no feelings at all. Many people think that when you lose a loved one, you uncontrollably cry for several days and whilst that is completely normal and true for a lot of people, for many others, there is no crying or at least it’s not all the time and this is normal and okay too. Our brains have a weird but wonderful way of protecting us and sometimes it does that by going into shock and preventing us from feeling our feelings. Like a system overload or a computer being overwhelmed and shutting down or freezing from having too many tabs open. Sometimes it can be all too much for our brains to process what has happened and to feel all the different emotions that come with losing a loved one, so our brain just shuts off. Whilst this is our brain’s way of helping us get through, it can feel confusing to be left feeling numb and disconnected from ourselves, our feelings, and the world around us. Grief is much like a wave, at one point it can feel its crashing over you one after another without giving you a chance to catch your breath and other times they may still be as big, but there is more time in between to catch your breath and surf on top of them. All of this is okay and doesn’t make you a bad person for not crying or feeling sad all the time, it is just our brain’s way of protecting us.
  • Journal: this doesn’t have to be a perfectly written diary entry or letter, just writing down how your feeling, your thoughts or anything that comes to mind. Sometimes it can help to get everything out of your head onto paper especially when you catch yourself thinking irrationally or getting caught up in the spiral of your own thoughts and darkness of grief.
  • Spend time outside: being amongst nature and breathing in fresh air can help us feel grounded and centred, especially when we find ourselves getting caught up in our own thoughts and spiralling in the darkness of grief. Being outside can help bring us out of that spiral and connect us to the present moment. Mindfulness and meditations can be especially helpful for this!
  • Anniversaries, the year of firsts and life beyond: the impending dates of anniversaries and occasions that were once celebrated can be something that you now dread, leaving you feeling extremely overwhelmed. These times can be a painful reminder of your loss and can create a lot of anxiety. It’s important to not put pressure on yourself or feel pressured or obligated by others to do something. There is no right or wrong thing to do, the right thing is what you feel most comfortable doing and what brings meaning and comfort for you. You may have the day planned of what you would like to do and come that day you may wake up and not feel like doing anything and that’s okay.

Feeling connected with your loved one:

  • You are not only grieving the person who has passed away, but you are also grieving the life you had, the life you were going to have and the plans you made and had with that person so the disconnection you feel from that person and from your life can leave you feeling empty and lost.
  • Write your loved one a letter: after losing someone, it can be hard to feel any type of connection or the presence of your loved one. Writing a letter can act as a form of communication and connection to them. Tell them how much you miss and love them, how your feeling, what you have been up to or what you’re struggling with the most. It can be absolutely anything, like having a normal conversation with them.
  • Light a candle, sit outside, go to their favourite place or a place you enjoyed going to together or listen to their favourite music.
  • Incorporate the values and qualities that your loved one embodied into your everyday life and live your life in a way that you know they would be proud of.
  • Communicating with or about your loved one: this could be writing letters to them as mentioned above, sharing stories about them, or talking to them directly (chose a specific place of comfort to talk to them).
  • Keep photos of the person around you: photos can help us feel connected with our loved ones and serve as a reminder that they are with us and help us remember the influence they continue to have in our lives.
  • Imagine what advice they would give when you feel stuck or have to make a tough decision: being unsure about what step to take or which decision to make can often feel overwhelming and can be especially hard when the person you would have told or gone to for help or advice is no longer here. Imagine having a conversation with them and asking yourself “what would they say to me if they were here right now?” can help provide comfort and clarity.
  • Look at photos and videos of your loved one: sometimes we can dwell and spend a lot of time thinking about the last few days of our loved one’s life and often the last few days are the most difficult as you know they are not themselves. These thoughts are at the forefront of our minds and can take over. It is important to not remember your loved one in that way but rather recollect the good times and memories you shared with your loved one and who they were as a person. Looking at photos and videos can be a gentle reminder of all the happier times.

Most importantly and above all remember that the deep, dark, and consuming feelings of grief is all just the amount of love you have for your loved one and there being no place for that love to go.

Lots of light, love and strength from a fellow griever.