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Coronavirus and the Six Needs of Mourning

By COVID-19, Grief/Loss

Alongside the physical pandemic, the novel coronavirus is causing a pandemic of grief. That’s what we’re all feeling right now—grief. It’s important to recognize that.

Grief is everything we think and feel inside of us whenever our attachments are threatened, harmed, or severed. We experience shock and disbelief. We are anxious, which is a form of fear. We become sad and possibly lonely. We get angry. We feel guilty or regretful. The sum total of all these and any other thoughts and feelings we are experiencing as a result of the coronavirus pandemic is our grief.

No wonder. The virus is threatening every single person on Earth with myriad losses of every kind, from separation from loved ones to financial endangerment to canceled once-in-a-lifetime events and many, many more.

Name something you care about or that gives your life meaning. In all likelihood, this attachment is now negatively affected or threatened in some way by the coronavirus.

And then, of course, there is our worry. What will happen next? Will we get sick? Will people we care about get sick? Will people we love die?

Our anxiety about all the future unknowns is also part of our grief. In fact, it’s called “anticipatory grief” because our minds and hearts are naturally trying to anticipate and prepare for what’s to come.

So we’re grieving. Grief is normal and necessary because it’s part of our love, and I’m sure you agree that love is our most precious asset.

But it’s also essential to recognize that we can and should work with our grief. While it lives inside of us, it’s passive and inert. But when we find ways to express it outside of ourselves, it changes. It becomes active. We feel better, and our experience of life is enriched.

This process of expressing our grief is called mourning. While each of us grieves and mourns in unique ways, we share six basic mourning needs. So let’s focus on understanding and intentionally working on these needs during the pandemic.

Need 1: Acknowledge the reality of the pandemic as well as your grief

First, please ensure that you’re accurately informed about the coronavirus, COVID-19 (which is the illness caused by the coronavirus), and measures you should be taking to keep yourself and others as safe as possible. There’s a lot of misinformation out there right now, so please limit your news to factual sources. And second, acknowledge the reality of your grief about the pandemic. As I said, everything you care about may be under threat right now. Grief is your normal and natural response to this threat. You can turn this static grief into active mourning by regularly talking to others about your internal thoughts and feelings and sharing fears. The more you communicate openly and honestly, the better you will feel.

Need 2: Honor all of your feelings

Again, it’s common to experience a wide range of emotions about this unprecedented global threat. I mentioned a number of them in the second paragraph: shock, disbelief, anxiety, sadness, loneliness, anger, guilt, and regret. Whatever you are feeling, know that it’s normal. Yet I understand that most of these feelings are unpleasant and uncomfortable. If you spend time each day on being aware of them, naming them, and expressing them outside of yourself in some way, they will soften. So talk about them with others, or write about them in a journal or on tools like social media. You’ll find that fully and honestly expressing all of your feelings will provide you with instant comfort and relief.

Need 3: Practice gratitude for the good in your life

Now is an essential time to be mindful of the good in your life. Spend at least a few minutes each day calling to mind the people, experiences, and things that have been and are the most precious to you, then find ways to express those memories and awarenesses. For example, while you’re at home sheltering in place, you might write one personalized thank-you note each day to someone who has meant a lot to you. Tell them about moments and memories that have been particularly meaningful in your life. Starting a gratitude journal is another excellent option. Having gratitude for what was and what is will help you foster hope for what will be.

Need 4: Be kind to yourself

Treat yourself with patience and compassion. Your pandemic grief needs and deserves tender loving care. Every morning, make a commitment to take care of yourself physically, cognitively, emotionally, socially, and spiritually in at least some small way on that day— for example, a ten-minute walk outside, a crossword puzzle, a brief FaceTime with a friend, a board game or online game with a loved one, and a five-minute prayer or meditation session. All five of these aspects of yourself are crucial to give attention to. If you neglect one or more of them, you’ll find yourself getting out of balance and your pandemic grief and health worsening.

Need 5: Search for meaning

Loss and grief always spur us to search for meaning. It’s natural to wonder why all of this is happening. We’re in what’s called “liminal space” right now, which means we’re suspended in this long, weird pause. There was our life before the pandemic, and in the future there will be our (unknown) life after the pandemic…but right now there is just this period of transition. It’s the time betwixt and between, and it’s uncomfortable. Yet it’s often this enforced discomfort that ultimately transforms us. In liminal times, it’s normal to search for spiritual answers and try to find steady ground. To meet this mourning need, work on mindfulness. Be present in this day and this moment. And devote some time every day to caring for your spirit. Whatever helps you feel joy, meaning, and purpose—do that.

Need 6. Reach out to others to give and accept support

Even during periods of isolation, we as human beings need personal contact. When we are grieving, we also need emotional support. So I encourage you to use this difficult time to build relationships. Talk openly and honestly with the people in your home and be as empathetic as you can. To communicate with others outside your home, video calls are probably the best substitute for face-to-face conversations. Voice calls come second. After that, emails, texting, and social media work too. And don’t forget the power of the handwritten letter! The point is to stay connected as much as possible AND to be open and honest in those communications about whatever it is you are feeling or struggling with at the moment. Your candor will encourage others to be honest as well, creating the opportunity for mutual support and kindness.

This pandemic will change the world, and it will also change you. The good news is that if you work on these six needs of mourning in the coming weeks, you will emerge from this liminal time a different person. Your grief work will cause you to evolve in ways that will make the rest of your life more meaningful. Through mourning, you have the opportunity to get to know yourself better. You might have the time to develop better self-care habits. You have the chance to solidify or improve relationships. And you may be able to gain more clarity about what really matters in your life (and let go of some of the things that don’t).

Grief is always a transformative experience, but this global grief may unify us like never before. Imagine what we can do together if each of us has used this liminal time to improve self-awareness, foster mindfulness, build relationships, soften fear, and take care of ourselves and each other. I have great hope for our shared future. Please join me in mourning well so that we can live better, love better, and change the world—for the better.

About the Author

Alan D. Wolfelt, Ph.D., is an author, educator, and grief counselor. He serves as Director of the Center for Loss and Life Transition and is on the faculty of the University of Colorado Medical School’s Department of Family Medicine. Dr. Wolfelt has written many bestselling books on coping with grief, including Grief One Day at a Time and First Aid for Broken Hearts. Visit to learn more about grief and loss and to order Dr. Wolfelt’s books.

5 Tips for Grieving When You’re Isolated

By COVID-19, Grief/Loss

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.

6 Ways to Focus on the Good During Tough Times

By COVID-19, Living Well

With many communities facing shelter in place restrictions and social distancing requirements due to the COVID-19 outbreak, many of us are struggling with the loss of our freedom, independence, and ability to enjoy the people and activities we love. This sense of isolation and loss of social interactions that help us feel loved and connected can bring about unexpected feelings of grief and loss. Grief is essentially the pain of separation from loved ones, and that is exactly what many of us are experiencing today.

When grief and loss are at their worst, focusing on the good things you still have can have a profound impact. Whether you are grieving the loss of connection with your loved ones, the loss of a job, or even the loss of your peace of mind and independence, focusing on what you are grateful for can help you foster resilience and adaptability as you face what life throws your way. Focusing on the good will help you persevere through the hard times and find hope for the future.

6 Ways to Shift Your Focus in Tough Times

When times are tough and your anxiety level is high, it’s easy to get stuck in a downward spiral. While it’s good to let yourself feel what you feel, remember to turn your focus to the good things in life as well. Today there may be storms and rain clouds, but tomorrow, the sun will shine again. As you face the challenges of each day, let’s talk about some good things you can focus on that will give you hope for the future.

1. Connect with the People You Love

No matter what kind of loss or crisis you are facing, there are people who love you and want to support you. Be intentional about making time to connect with family, friends, and co-workers who have a way of brightening your day and bringing a smile to your face. Even with limitations on gatherings in place, you can still reach out by text, email, and even video chat to feel connected. Don’t underestimate the power of your heartfelt words at a time like this. In time, the troubles you are facing will not be quite as difficult as they are today, and the people in your life can make all the difference in making your days the best they can be.

2. Remember the Good Times You’ve Had

Though you may be struggling right now, things haven’t always been this way. It may be difficult at first but take time each day to dwell on a time when you were happy and joyful. Perhaps it was a family vacation, a college experience, a road trip with friends, or accomplishing a long-sought-after goal. If you have some extra down time on your hands, you might want to work on a project such as a video slideshow, picture album, or photo wall that will help you dwell on the good times you’ve had. Even now, you can set your mind on a goal for the future that will give you drive and determination to move forward and figure out what life looks like beyond today’s struggles.

3. Take this as an Opportunity to Grow & Develop

Depending on your situation, you may want to take this time of transition as an opportunity to turn over a new leaf. If you’re mourning the loss of a job, you might take this time to explore an area of personal development you’ve never focused on. If you have experienced a loss of mobility or independence, look for ways to continue to express who you are and learn more about yourself. This could mean taking online classes or reading books on new topics. A perceived setback can actually be a launching pad to something new and better that you never expected.

4. Renew Your Hopes & Dreams for the Future

Despite what your feelings may tell you today, life will move forward. While things may not go back to the way things used to be, you will discover a “new normal.” But today, even in the midst of fear, sadness, or anxiety, remember that things will get better, and you will get through this. Now is a good time to consider your own hopes and dreams. Think about what you’ve always wanted to do and plan how to get it done. Looking forward to the future will give you a renewed sense of hope and a reason to keep moving forward.

5. Focus on Helping Others

When you’re experiencing grief or loss, you have a natural tendency to focus inward, dwelling on your own thoughts and feelings. Expressing what you feel is an excellent step toward healing, but you need to grieve in “doses.” In other words, you can’t do it all at once. It takes time. By helping others, you can actually give yourself a break from your problems and experience a sense of accomplishment and pride. In the midst of whatever you’re facing, taking time to care for others is an excellent way to not only make a difference in your community and the lives of others but to find continued purpose in your own life.

6. Appreciate What You Do Have

Even though you may be tempted to focus on what you don’t have, try to be intentional and focus on what you do have. That could be as simple as appreciating a lovely day or a good movie. Or, you can focus on loved ones who are close to you and give them extra doses of your time and attention. Take time every day to think about or write down a few things or people you are grateful for, and watch your attitude and appreciation for what you do still have begin to change.

These are just a few ideas for shifting your mindset so you can focus on the good things in your life when times are hard. The pain of this grief, loss, and difficulty won’t last forever. In the meantime, you can take this time to think about your goals in life, all the things you are grateful for, and where you want your life to go in the years ahead once you have come through this difficult time.

Nurturing Hope in Difficult Times

By COVID-19, Living Well

“Hope is the pillar that holds up the world.” — Pliny the Elder

The caller to the Center for Loss asked a question that is on the hearts of many right now: “Are we going to get through this?”

It became obvious as the conversation continued that she was experiencing feelings of grief and in search of borrowing some much-needed hope. As I hung up the phone after 20 minutes, I found myself yearning to write about hope, because, especially during difficult times like these, it is indeed the pillar that holds up the world.

As director of the Center for Loss and Life Transition, I advocate for our human need to acknowledge and embrace our darker emotions. Our culture usually isn’t so good at honoring loss and supporting others who are grieving, even though they are essential parts of our lives. Instead, to our detriment, we tend to focus almost exclusively on the happy and the distracting and the fun.

It’s a question of balance. We need both, you see. We need to honor the light and the dark, the happy and the sad—and everything in between—because all of it belongs. All of it is authentic. And whatever is authentic is normal and necessary.

Usually we’re out of balance because we choose to shine our awareness only on the “good stuff.” But right now, in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, we’re at risk for the balance tipping too far the other way, in the direction of fear and despair.

Yes, in difficult times, we must remember to hope.

What is hope? It’s an expectation of a good that is yet to be. It is an inner knowing that the future holds positive things. It is trust that no matter the current circumstances, the days to come will reveal happiness. It’s forward-looking—yet experienced in the now.

Like mourning, nurturing hope is active. It’s something we can do. Let’s look at what we can do to embrace hope even as we are experiencing the many losses caused by this pandemic.

Practice mindfulness

As I write this, most of us in North America are sheltering in place. Though our normal lives have been completely disrupted and we may be experiencing very real personal losses (sick friends and family members, financial jeopardy, lost connections with loved ones, to name just a few), many of us are also, in this moment, safe and comfortable.

Practicing mindfulness means learning to be present to our immediate surroundings right now. As I write this, the sun peeks out from billowy clouds in a denim-blue sky. I see spring crocuses blooming. My dogs sleep at my feet. Whenever I am mindful of the present moment, I find gratitude, and gratitude helps me access hope, which we might think of as gratitude for what is to come.

Being mindful in the now also helps me build relationships with the people I care about. In the now I can share quality time with my wife, and even though I can’t visit them in person, I can also spend time each day on video calls with my children and friends. The more I can use this time to strengthen relationships with my dear ones, the more hope I will have for the future gatherings we will share.

Relinquish the illusion of control

There’s a fine line between a) informing ourselves about the pandemic and steps we can take to keep ourselves and others safe, and b) overconsuming information (and misinformation), causing undue stress and even despair.

In this information age, we have limitless content at our fingertips. We could read, watch, and listen to new information about COVID-19 for many hours a day and still never be “caught up.” It makes sense that we might be tempted to overconsume information in an effort to feel in control of what is happening. The trouble is, we as individuals can’t control this epidemic, and we can’t even fully control what happens to us and our loved ones.

Relinquishing the illusion of control can lessen our anxiety and help us to build trust in our own capacity to cope with whatever happens. If we work on mindfulness, we don’t have to obsess and worry. Instead, we can learn to be OK with our lack of control and trust in our own resilience. When tomorrow comes, we will handle what comes tomorrow. Today we are only responsible for today.

Build hope

If we believe that our futures will include moments of joy, love, and meaning, we already have within us that spark of hope. We can grow that spark into a flame by intentionally building hope into each day.

How do we build hope during difficult times? Here are a few ways:

  • By taking part in activities we care about to the extent that we can while sheltering in place
  • By engaging in spiritual practices
  • By making a collage of words or pictures that symbolize hope in our mind and heart
  • By intentionally imagining the futures we desire
  • By making future plans that excite us and that we know we will enjoy
  • By helping others
  • By staying in close contact with the people we care about, ideally through video and phone calls
  • By taking care of our bodies, our minds, our hearts, our social connections, and our souls

Consciously Choose Hope

Please understand that hope is not something that will just passively float into your life. Instead, hope will enter when you create ways to consciously bring it into your day. Despite these challenging times, the door you open to hope each and every day will dramatically influence the quality of your life.

Consciously choosing hope means deliberately focusing on it—paying attention to it, inviting it into a given moment, and letting yourself feel it as it enters. Be creative with how you give attention to hope and invite it in. Moment by moment, choose hope over fear. Choose hope instead of despair. If you start feeling hopeless, act with intention to bring hope to that moment.

If hope feels out of reach right now, consider borrowing a little to get you through. When you cannot muster the energy to cultivate it yourself, it’s possible to receive hope from others. It’s appropriate in times like these to turn to people who have hope to lend.

How do you know someone is hope-filled? Look for friends and family members who have a hopeful outlook on life. They are people who have a positive energy when they are in your presence, and they make you smile when you simply hear their voice. They are also usually caring, nonjudgmental listeners. The energy they radiate can anchor you right now. Remember—hope is a renewable resource. Borrow it now, and know that in the future, when the time is right, you can pay it forward to someone else in need.

In the words of Victor Frankl, I remind you, “Everything can be taken away from a man but one thing: the last of human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” As you choose your own way during these challenging times, I invite you to nurture hope and to be grateful for your life each and every day.


About the Author
Dr. Alan Wolfelt is an author, educator, and grief counselor. He serves as Director of the Center for Loss and Life Transition and is on the faculty at the University of Colorado Medical School’s Department of Family Medicine. Dr. Wolfelt has written many compassionate books designed to help people mourn well so they can continue to love and live well, including The Mourner’s Book of Hope. Visit to learn more about the natural and necessary process of grief and mourning and to order Dr. Wolfelt’s books.

This Pandemic of Grief

By COVID-19, Current Events

The coronavirus is not only causing a viral pandemic—it is giving rise to a pandemic of grief. As I write this, in mid-March 2020, we as a global community are suffering so many losses that I hardly know where to begin.

Death and grief go hand-in-hand, of course. Thousands of people have already died of COVID-19 worldwide. Many more are dying right now. These are terrible losses for the loved ones of these precious individuals, and they will need our support and empathy in the months to come.

Yet what strikes me at this moment is that this aggressive new virus is threatening every single person on Earth with myriad losses of every kind. Name something you care about or that gives your life meaning. In all likelihood, this attachment is now negatively affected or threatened in some way by the coronavirus.

Social distancing is forcing us to be apart from friends and family for weeks and possibly months. Personal events have been postponed or called off, so we are unable to gather for life’s most meaningful celebrations and rituals, from baptisms and birthdays to weddings, anniversary parties, and funerals. Public activities and experiences that brought us together have also been cancelled. Workplaces are shuttering or moving to work-from home. Restaurants, museums, and theaters are closing. Sporting events have been shut down. Town squares stand empty.

While thanks to technology we can still stay in constant contact with one another remotely—something that wasn’t possible during past prolonged international crises, such as the 1918 flu pandemic—we are learning the limitations of digital love and care.

What is grief?

As human beings, whenever our attachments are threatened, harmed, or severed, we naturally grieve. Grief is everything we think and feel inside of us when this happens. We experience shock and disbelief. We worry, which is a form of fear. We become sad and possibly lonely. We get angry. We feel guilty or regretful. The sum total of all these and any other thoughts and feelings we are experiencing as a result of the coronavirus pandemic is our grief.

Our pandemic grief will change from day to day and week to week. This virus is fast. As it sweeps across continents and we collectively take action to “flatten the curve,” new rules and limitations are popping up every day. Restrictions are mounting and growing increasingly severe. As the noose tightens, our grief will change. And as with the virus itself, it will likely get worse before it gets better.

How to help yourself and others: emotionally, socially, and spiritually

There are a couple of important things to understand about your pandemic grief.

First, it is normal and natural. It is simply a part of your love and attachment.

And second, grief responds to awareness, attention, and expression.

You will feel better if you mourn. Mourning is being aware of your grief, giving it the attention it needs and deserves, and expressing it outside of yourself.

We have all heard a lot about how to take care of ourselves physically with this virus, but I have seen little about emotional, social, and spiritual health. During this time of great grief, mourning is the key to these pillars of self-care.

When we are feeling the emotional pain of our coronavirus grief, we can tune into it and allow it to teach us what we are really worried, sad, angry, etc. about. And then we can express it. We can talk to others about it, in our household, on the phone, or online. We can write about it in a journal. We can listen to music or watch movies that help us access, understand, and share our feelings. Mourning our grief in these ways helps soften it and gives us the emergency emotional release and sustenance we need to survive.

Socially, we can’t congregate in person right now. Did you know that the word “congregate” comes from the Latin roots com, meaning together, and gregare, meaning to gather in a flock? But we can continue to make efforts to reach out to the people we care about. Video calls are probably the best substitute for face-to-face conversations. Voice calls come second. After that, emails, texting, and social media work too. And don’t forget the power of the handwritten letter! The point is to stay connected as much as possible AND to be open and honest in those communications about whatever it is you are feeling or struggling with at the moment. Your candor will encourage others to be honest as well, creating the opportunity for mutual support and kindness.

And when it comes to spiritual health, now is an especially resonant time to work on caring for your soul. One redeeming factor of enforced isolation is that it creates the opportunity for spiritual contemplation and practice. In times of loss, we almost always wonder why things happen as they do. We naturally question the meaning of life in general and the meaning of our own life in particular. We turn our attention to our deepest beliefs and values. We talk to God or wonder about God or get angry at God.

If you’ve been struggling with beliefs, values, meaning, and life goals during the pandemic, you’re experiencing the spiritual aspect of grief. And the best way to care for your spirit right now is to be intentional about giving it time and attention. I recommend spending at least 15 minutes each day on spiritual practices. Whatever helps you get in touch with your divine spark—do that. For some people that might be meditation or prayer. For others it can be reading a spiritual text, speaking affirmations, attending a religious or spiritual service online, doing yoga, writing in a journal, or spending time observing nature or walking outdoors.

Simply being aware of your emotional, social, and spiritual health every day and being deliberate about self-care in those areas will help you and others today as well as in the weeks to come. There is no doubt that this is a challenging moment to be alive, but it is also a moment in which our collective resources have never been greater and more capable. So let’s be open, honest, and kind—to ourselves and to each other.

Suggestions for special circumstances


The longer we are isolated in our homes, the lonelier we are likely to become. Humans are social creatures. We are built for touch and body language and conversation. With the rise of technology and its modern-day substitution for personal contact, we were already suffering from a loneliness epidemic. But the coronavirus social-distancing efforts are making it (and will continue to make it) worse. My best suggestion here is to reach out proactively to others in all the ways that you can right now, as often as you can, for their benefit as well as yours. If you or someone you know is at particular risk for loneliness right now, ask for assistance. Find friends, family members, and neighbors who are willing to create a support team. Most people are happy to help but need suggestions about how.

Isolated seniors

On a related note, many seniors are particularly isolated right now. As you know, older people are at much higher risk for serious illness and death from the coronavirus and are having to self-isolate the most strictly. If you are an isolated senior reading this, the loneliness self-care tips I offered above apply to you. If you would like to help an isolated senior, brainstorm with others about the ways in which you can still provide safe comfort and support. For example, deliveries of food, books, and personal notes might help. Touching base by phone once or twice a day could make a world of difference. Be creative and practical in your efforts, and most of all, offer frequent and consistent contact.

Another special circumstance that applies here concerns seniors being cared for in longterm care facilities that have instituted no-visitors policies during the pandemic. Such policies are absolutely necessary right now, but they are also separating loved ones. And I have already heard of a number of cases in which an elderly resident is actively dying but their family is not allowed to be by their side as they die. This is a great heartbreak indeed, and I can offer no equal substitute for physical proximity at this pivotal moment in a family’s life. But I would encourage families to do whatever they can to convey their love. For example, it’s possible to write a letter to the person who is dying and ask a care attendant to read it aloud to them. Making a video recording of yourself, as if you were talking directly to the dying person, is another idea. Asking that special music be played and special memorabilia or flowers be placed in the room is a third idea.

Far-flung families

Many family members are separated from one another at the moment. Some live far apart but wish they could be closer together at this time of need and grief. But travel may not be possible, and for elderly or at-risk family members, physical proximity  may be inadvisable anyway. Again, I would suggest being in touch as much as possible, as often as possible, in any way you can. If you are feeling concern or love for someone who is far away, call them and tell them so. Send them a text. Write them an email. Send a heartfelt greeting card with a personal letter. Your grief over a possible threat to their well-being, yours, or both is tugging at you, so give it voice. They will feel loved and supported, and you will feel relieved and loved as well.

Cancelled events

In many ways, special events are the moments in which we most profoundly feel the love we share with our closest others as well as the meaning of life itself. We dream of and plan for significant expected events such as graduations, retirements, and family vacations. And when unexpected significant events arise, such as serious injuries, deaths, and funerals, we drop everything to be there. But we are living in a moment in time in which most such events are being cancelled in an effort to protect the health of the greater community and the most vulnerable among us. Naturally we are bereft over the loss of these rare opportunities to gather with loved ones and immerse ourselves in that which is most meaningful in our lives.

Whenever possible, I would advocate for such events being postponed rather than cancelled. If the graduation or retirement date comes and goes, maybe the celebration can still be held later on. If a public funeral can’t take place shortly after the death, maybe a memorial service can be scheduled some weeks or months from now. Untimely gatherings are not ideal, of course, but they are much better than no gathering at all. Virtual events may also be a good idea. Baby showers and christenings broadcast live online might be an option, for example.

But most of all, what I hope you will do when an upcoming event is cancelled is pay attention to your feelings about the cancellation and then communicate those feelings to the people who form the centerpiece of the event. If a wedding is cancelled, for instance, write heartfelt notes to the bride and groom and any other family members you are close to telling them why you were looking forward to the event, what it means to you, and what your hopes and dreams are for them in the months to come. They will find great comfort and meaning in your words.

Serious illness and death

If it hasn’t already for you, the moment will likely come during this pandemic when someone you care about—maybe not someone in your closest circle but a friend or neighbor—becomes seriously ill and perhaps even dies. I am certainly not trying to borrow trouble, but I also understand that, numerically, you and I may both find ourselves in this unfortunate circumstance at some point in the coming year. Such is the nature of COVID-19. And to complicate matters, it may happen at a time when we are still quarantined to our own homes, and public ceremonies are still forbidden.

Virtually all of us are grieving this possibility right now. If you have read this whole article, you know that I am an advocate for being open and honest about our inner grief. If in the coming days your grief includes this worry, please talk about it with other people, on the phone, online, and on social media. And if such a reality comes to pass for you, I hope you will remember that your grief is normal and necessary, and it needs and deserves expression.

Here in the American interior west, it feels strange to be rolling onto the onramp of a viral pandemic. We know the route we are heading down, but we don’t know exactly how bad it’s going to be or how our local communities—or we personally—will be affected along the way. Because of this uncertainty, our grief is in part anticipatory at this point. While we are already grieving very real closures, cancellations, and limitations, we are also, normally and naturally, anticipating the unknown griefs to come. They are also part of our love.

I hope that we will emerge from this viral and grief pandemic a more conscious, cohesive, and caring world community. May it shape and transform us into better versions of ourselves.

About the Author

Alan D. Wolfelt, Ph.D., is a respected author and educator on the topics of companioning others and healing in grief. He serves as Director of the Center for Loss and Life Transition and is on the faculty of the University of Colorado Medical School’s Department of Family Medicine. Dr. Wolfelt has written many bestselling books on coping with grief, including Grief One Day at a Time and First Aid for Broken Hearts. Visit to learn more about grief and loss and to order Dr. Wolfelt’s books.

How to Talk to Children About the Coronavirus Pandemic

By COVID-19, Current Events

As the coronavirus spreads across North America and our daily lives are transformed, we all must be aware of the need for good mental-health care. Obviously, it’s a stressful time. Families are confined to their homes. School is canceled. Many businesses are closed. Workers are being laid off en masse, causing financial distress. And then there is the illness itself, COVID-19. Will we or someone we love become critically ill or even die? We are all naturally worried about the “what ifs” and “what nexts.”

The youngest among us are not immune to all of this stress. They sense it in the adults around them, and they see it on social media and other sources of information. Their own day-to-day routines have been completely disrupted.

When it comes to painful, complex realities, it can be difficult to know how much we should share with children. Many people have an instinct to protect kids. But as someone who has worked with and advocated for grieving children for many decades, I’ve learned that what they really need is honesty combined with steadfast care.

Here are a few foundational dos and don’ts.

Follow the child’s lead

Pay attention to what the child seems curious or worried about. For younger children, these concerns may manifest through their play rather than directly. You don’t need to volunteer a lot of information. Instead, invite them to ask questions. And try saying just a little at a time. Children are often satisfied with short answers and small “doses” of information. When they want to know more, they’ll let you know, especially if you are someone who is always straight with them.

Talk openly and honestly to children about what is happening

It’s important to be honest with children about difficult circumstances. In fact, I often say that children can cope with what they know, but they can’t cope with what they don’t know. Be factual. Talk to them about social distancing and that it’s necessary to keep people safe. Explain to them that it’s mostly elderly people who are at risk of getting really sick or dying. If finances are an issue, it’s good to talk to them about that too. If someone in your family has been affected by the virus, keep the child updated. And if your family finances are being stressed, as they are for so many people right now, try not to overburden your children with this challenge. It’s OK to let them know about the need to curtail unnecessary spending, for example, but also keep in mind that financial issues are grown-up issues. We must be careful not to make children over-worry about this or feel responsible.

Use developmentally appropriate language

Use simple, concrete language when you talk to children about the pandemic. It’s OK to use the words “coronavirus” and “pandemic,” because children are hearing those terms, but you will need to explain them in ways that they will understand.

Share your feelings

As I said, we are all naturally worried about and disoriented over the pandemic. Circumstances are changing rapidly from day to day, and the future is unknown. Children who spend time with you will pick up on your anxiety, so it’s essential to tell them what you’re worried about. If you don’t, they are likely to imagine even worse scenarios–or think that they are somehow to blame or at risk. And it’s also important that you practice good self-care to manage any severe anxiety you yourself may be having. If your anxiety levels are too high, theirs will be, too.

Understand magical thinking

Young children are susceptible to what’s called “magical thinking.” They may believe that their thoughts and behaviors can cause bad things to happen. If they didn’t want to talk to Grandma the last time they saw her, for example, and she gets sick, they may secretly believe they caused or contributed to her sickness. So be attuned to any feelings of guilt or shame the children in your care may be hiding, and explain clearly to them that none of this is their fault.

Be patient, kind, and reassuring

Most of all what children need is reassurance that they are being cared for and that their family and others they care about are safe.

Routines help children feel safe, so if their daily routine has been turned upside-down, it’s important to create a new routine. Even if you’re stuck at home, you can still have breakfast together at a certain time and follow a daily schedule. Keeping evening rituals consistent is also essential. And while all of this is going on, try extra hard to be patient and kind. I know it’s extremely challenging to manage children patiently when school and activities are not there to help share the “it takes a village” burden, but keep in mind that your children will likely have strong memories of this strange interlude in their lives, as will you. You don’t need to be perfect. You just need to be caring, consistent, and honest.

It’s also important to emphasize to children that lots and lots of grown-up doctors, scientists, and government workers across the world are working to solve the problem. It is our responsibility, not children’s. We are working hard on treatments and vaccines as well as ways to help families who need help. We will get through this.

And I hope you will take advantage of any extra time you have during the quarantine to use for cuddles, hugs, and play. Physical closeness and care go a long way in helping children feel safe and loved.

About the Author

Dr. Alan D. Wolfelt is a noted author, educator, and grief counselor. He serves as Director of the Center for Loss and Life Transition in Fort Collins, Colorado, and is on the faculty at the University of Colorado Medical School’s Department of Family Medicine. Among his many bestselling books are Healing A Child’s Grieving Heart and Finding the Words: How to Talk with Children and Teens about Death, Suicide, Homicide, Funerals, and Other End-of-Life Matters. To order Dr. Wolfelt’s books and for more information, visit

Coronavirus Safety Tips: Taking Precautions When Attending a Funeral

By COVID-19, Current Events

Recently, the United States officially declared the outbreak of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) a national emergency. National, state, and local officials are hoping to slow the spread of the disease in order to prevent overwhelming the healthcare system and its resources. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warns that the virus seems to spread from person-to-person contact, which means people have to take precautions during events like funerals.  

If you are attending a funeral during this outbreak, here are six precautions you can take to ensure you and your family remain healthy

1. Practice Social Distancing

Although officials are unsure how the virus behaves, they believe it spreads through close contact with someone who is sick. That’s why many people are choosing to practice social distancing, which is defined as “remaining out of congregate settings, avoiding mass gatherings, and maintaining distance (approximately 6 feet or 2 meters) from others when possible.”  

Since a funeral or memorial can involve a lot of people in close contact, you can try to sit further apart from others if there is enough space. Additionally, instead of hugs and handshakes, offer kind words and sympathy notes to those who are grieving.

2. Cover Your Mouth When You Cough

Officials also believe the virus can spread through respiratory droplets when an infected person coughs or sneezes. Covering your mouth with your arm or a handkerchief can prevent the spread of these droplets. The CDC does not recommend using a face mask if you are not sick. However, if you think you have the virus, wearing a mask can prevent your coughs from infecting others. Face masks may be limited, so if you are healthy, the best thing you can do is avoid coming into contact with someone who might be sick. 

3. Wash Hands Thoroughly and Regularly

Washing your hands is important to prevent the spread of any virus, including COVID-19. Germs can collect on your hands if you touch a surface that someone with the disease has also touched. Thorough and regular handwashing is an easy way to prevent the disease from spreading. When you attend a service, don’t be afraid to ask the funeral home staff where you can wash your hands. This should be done before and after the service to help maintain cleanliness.

4. Avoid Large Gatherings

Avoiding those who may be sick is key to slowing the spread of the disease. The CDC, along with federal, state, and local officials, are urging or mandating restrictions on social gatherings to “flatten the curve.” However, grieving people will still need the support of loved ones during a time of loss. Small gatherings or visits with the immediate family may still be possible in some areas that are least affected. Staggered events can also ensure that not too many people are gathered at the same time in the same place. Be sure to follow federal, state, and local recommendations and mandates to help keep everyone healthy and safe. If you cannot attend a funeral or memorial event, here are a few ways you can show your support for the grieving family.

5. Stay Home if You Are Sick

Staying home if you are sick or suspect you may have been exposed to the virus is paramount to stopping the spread of the disease. If you or a loved one were exposed to the virus, proceed with an abundance of caution. Stay home and make every effort to limit contact with others in your community. At this time, the CDC believes that infection is most likely once symptoms are present; however, they do state that some spread might be possible before people show symptoms. 

6. Follow Directions of Funeral Home Staff

Finally, follow the directions of the funeral home and staff. The funeral home may recommend limiting the size of public gatherings, postponing events, or live streaming events with only immediate family present, depending on how prevalent the outbreak is in your area. Some funeral homes are limiting their number of visitations and funeral services to one per day so they can ensure minimal exposure to others. If these services are held, the funeral home staff will likely take precautions such as holding open doors to limit your contact with surfaces, having one person sign register books, or offering electronic options. The funeral home may also limit the use of printed programs or other items. Alternatively, they may schedule funeral arrangement meetings over the phone or other technology to limit person-to-person contact.  

Remember, the needs of the grieving family for love and support during a time of grief don’t go away. If you can attend a funeral, show up! Even if you can’t offer hugs, your presence is more than enough.

What to Do If You Can’t Attend the Funeral

By COVID-19, Current Events, Helping a Friend in Grief

There are numerous factors that can lead you to miss an important event like a funeral. The outbreak of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) is one factor that may be at the forefront of your mind, especially recently. In the wake of this relatively unknown disease, you want to ensure you and your family are taking proper precautions and following specific guidelines provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and federal, state, and local recommendations and mandates.  

Funeral homes are doing all they can to minimize exposure to others, such as limiting the size of the services, holding one service per day, and/or properly sanitizing the establishment after each gathering. Funeral attendees can also do their part by practicing social distancing, frequent handwashing, and even avoiding large gatherings. However, depending on your health status, state and local restrictions, and your household’s risk level, you may simply be unable to physically attend a funeral. If you must stay home, here are four ways you can provide comfort and encouragement to the family and friends of the person who has died. 

 1. Ask if the service will be recorded or streamed online. 

As mentioned above, some funeral homes will limit the number of people attending a service so that they comply with the CDC guidelines. If that’s the case, a virtual or digital viewing experience may be your best option. The good news is that some funeral homes can stream the service live on Facebook or other technology. You can call the funeral home to ask if that option will be available for the service, and then ask how you can view the stream from the comfort of your home 

 2. Write a note to encourage the family and friends who have lost a loved one.

Though it seems simple, a heartfelt note can make a huge difference to someone who is grieving. It only takes a few minutes to make someone feel like they are not alone and to show that you care. You can do this through a sympathy card, social media post, email, or text. If you want some tips, here are a few recommendations for writing a meaningful condolence letter 

3. Give a sympathy gift.

There are many ways to show someone that you care apart from handwritten notes or letters. Gifts are always encouraged, especially if they are tailored to the recipient. If you can’t drop off a gift in person, you can send flowers or have a gift delivered to the family. You may also consider making a charitable donation in the name of the person who died. If you’d like more ideas for meaningful sympathy gifts, click here 

4. Check in regularly on those who are grieving. 

You might not be able to be present with your grieving friend in person, but you can always check in with a phone call, text, or note through social media letting them know you are thinking of them. The process of grief will last longer than the virus. Continue to support your friends and family members during this time to show that you care. With every thoughtful note or check-in, no matter how brief, your grieving friend will feel supported and loved throughout their grief journey.  

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