Grief is hard, no matter the circumstances. Losing someone we love to illness, accident, or even natural causes is one of the most emotionally taxing experiences in life. But imagine if you had to grieve all alone – what would that look like? Well, unfortunately, it’s not so hard to imagine anymore. COVID-19 has disrupted our lives, distanced us from each other, and put a stop to the way we typically process loss through a healing and meaningful funeral or memorial service surrounded by the love and support of friends and family.
So, what can we do during this unique season – when we are physically separated from each other – to honor a loved one’s life and do the work of grief?
1. Find a Way to Honor Your Loved One’s Life
While funeral and memorial services are under restricted guidelines at the moment, that doesn’t mean we can’t find ways to honor and remember the person we love. A public service celebrating the life of your loved one may need to be scheduled for a later date, but you can honor their life now. Create a memorial photo or scrapbook with all your favorites. Write down the stories you love about your loved one so that you can share them at the eulogy when it happens. Upload photos of your loved one to your preferred social media platform and write a tribute. Consider writing a grief journal so you can express what’s on your heart and mind during this time of grief.
2. Schedule Video Calls with Friends and Family
A hug may be just what you want right now, but sometimes, we have to do the next best thing. Instead of sitting at a coffee shop, have a coffee date via video call in your own living room. While face-to-face is preferable, we don’t need to be in the same room to give and receive their love and support. Instead of a visitation, we can talk on the phone or schedule video calls. Use technology to your benefit. When you lose someone you love, talking about that person, your memories, your fears, and your sadness is all part of the grieving process. Instead of turning inward, turn outward and talk with people who care about you through digital avenues.
3. Practice Self-Care
During times of grief, it’s even more important to be kind to yourself. Dr. Alan Wolfelt, a nationally respected author and grief counselor, has a lot to say about self-care. He states: “The word ‘bereaved’… means ‘to be torn apart’ and ‘to have special needs.’ So, despite its obsolescence, the word is still accurate and useful. Perhaps your most important ‘special need’ right now is to be compassionate with yourself. In fact, the word ‘compassion’ means ‘with passion.’ Caring for and about yourself with passion is self-compassion.”
So, at this time of grief, treat yourself with kindness and compassion. Give yourself time to grieve – there’s no rush. Express what you’re feeling – through journaling, creative writing, painting, wood-working, listening to or composing music, praying, or simply talking with another person. Take care of your health and ensure that you are eating well and exercising. Get enough sleep. Grief can sap your energy, so by taking care of yourself, you can find the motivation to continue to move forward.
4. Express Yourself
Grief makes us feel things that may be outside our normal. It could be a deep sadness, anger, guilt, regret, or even relief. No matter what you’re feeling, these are all normal reactions to losing a loved one. More important than what you feel is how you process and deal with your feelings. For many of us, the solution is to stuff down our emotions and keep soldiering on, especially when faced with difficult circumstances. But trying to ignore what you feel won’t make it go away. In fact, stuffing your grief away can have serious consequences on your mental and physical health. Rather than avoid what you’re feeling, give yourself permission to grieve and find ways to express yourself in a way that makes sense for your needs and personality.
5. Plan a Celebration of Your Loved One’s Life
It could be that your loved one’s final tribute is delayed because of COVID-19. Or, it may be that you just simply aren’t able to attend the service because of distance, finances, or difficult relationships. No matter the reason, plan something – big or small – to mark your loved one’s life. That might mean working with a funeral home to create a meaningful and personalized final tribute. It may mean planning a dinner party with your closest friends. In our current days of social distancing, it may mean scheduling an event for the future or having an online get-together. No matter what it looks like, no matter your circumstances, make an effort to acknowledge the reality of your loved one’s death and celebrate their life and its significance.
And Remember, Grief is a Journey
In many ways, grief is a journey – one we’d rather not take. It’s a journey that requires much from us, but one that is worth taking. If you do the work of grief, you will eventually reach reconciliation. You won’t “get over” the loss – that’s not possible – but you will find a way to move forward. Dr. Wolfelt puts it this way: “Never forget that the death of someone loved changes your life forever. It’s not that you won’t be happy again. It’s simply that you will never be exactly the same as you were before the death.” So, slow down, breathe deeply, and take the time you need to grieve.
May these suggestions help you grieve during this unusual season and find the healing you need to move confidently and wholly into the rest of your life.