Senseless. Horrifying. Heartbreaking. No words can capture the disbelief and heartbreak we feel at learning about the mass shooting in Allen, Texas, at Allen Premium Outlets. At this time eight victims are confirmed dead, and several others are receiving treatment at a local hospital. After an event like this, less than a year after the tragic events in Uvalde at Robb Elementary School, we’re all left stunned and grappling with questions.
Tragedies like the events unfolding in Allen encompass not only the grief and mourning of individual families but of entire communities. As we seek to mourn the victims and process the events, we should consider how to mourn together, as people, as communities.
Communally, how do we mourn such traumatic events?
Respected grief expert, Dr. Alan Wolfelt, has worked with families dealing with grief over the unexpected, traumatic death of a loved one. He says, “After someone you care about dies a sudden, violent death, you are forced to struggle with both the traumatic nature of the death and your grief over the loss. Naturally, traumatized mourners often find themselves replaying and reconsidering over and over the circumstances of the death. This is both normal and necessary. Such replay helps you begin to acknowledge the reality of the death and integrate it into your life. It’s as if your mind needs to devote time and energy to comprehending the circumstances of the death before it can move on to grieving the fact that this person will no longer be part of your life.”
As individuals, as communities, we struggle to comprehend these events. How and why would anyone do this? The survivors and the victims’ families will likely replay the day in their minds over and over. They may even wonder if they could have done something different. They couldn’t have. No one could have known what had been planned. So, now we ask, how do we move forward? We band together, support each other, and mourn as one.
What does it mean to mourn?
Grief is an internal feeling. It is the part of us that feels anguish over these events. Mourning is an outward expression of our internal grief, and it pushes us to externalize our grief, to take action to express that grief. Without externally expressing our grief, emotions can become internalized and remain inside us, unaddressed.
When an event touches an entire community, an entire nation, it is important to externalize our grief and mourn TOGETHER.
Community mourning – how do we do that?
First, our churches and houses of worship can open their doors for prayer vigils. After the events at the Boston Marathon, places of worship all over the city opened their doors to the community. It was an act of communal mourning and a way to come together, grieve together, and heal together.
Similarly, individuals, businesses, churches, or schools can coordinate candlelight vigils and invite their communities to participate. In 2007, the Virginia Tech shooting horrified the nation. Then, and even now, ten years later, the community, the students, and the families came together to mourn and to remember those who lost their lives. The candle indicates the unity of those participating, their prayers and thoughts for the victims, and their desire to remember those who have been lost.
Finally, communities mourn together through creating memorials. To mourn the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, people near and far came together, wrote prayer notes, paid their respects at memorials throughout town, mourning the tragic events together. These memorials help us feel connected to the victims. As a result, they give us a way to show that we care about them, that we mourn their loss.
Communal mourning events are important. We are all affected by this event in some measure, and we need to support each other, giving special support to the survivors and the families of the victims. A significant way that we, as friends, neighbors, and fellow Americans, can show our support is to come together to acknowledge and mourn this significant loss.
It is imperative that we mourn as communities; that we support and pray for those most closely affected by this senseless act; and that we come together and deepen the ties of our communities. May God be with the families and friends of the victims of these tragedies.
With the death of Queen Elizabeth, multiple nations and millions of people plunged into mourning. While it was not unexpected due to her age, death still brings out a multitude of emotions. In many ways, the Queen’s death brings with it a stark reminder of the importance of honoring life, paying tribute, and saying goodbye to the people who have impacted our lives.
From the moment of her death until her final commitment at St. George’s Chapel, every aspect of Queen Elizabeth’s funeral circled around the importance of ritual and healing actions.
3 Ways Queen Elizabeth’s Funeral Brought Comfort and Healing
1. Through Rich Symbolism
Steeped in history and British tradition, each act of symbolism brought a certain amount of comfort and security. From the Imperial Crown resting on her coffin to the elaborate procession through the streets of London and the fact that the Royal Standard was never lowered, signaling that even with the Queen’s absence, a monarch still reigned, each act was intentional and thought out. The moments when her children and later grandchildren stood vigil at her coffin were particularly compelling and beautiful.
For those living in the Commonwealth realms, this focus on traditional rituals and actions no doubt brought a sense of unity and rightness. The Queen’s life should be honored in such a way for her incredible contribution to her people and the world.
2. Through Sweet Moments of Personalization
In addition to the historically rich symbols seen throughout, there were many instances of personalization. Though many of the funeral details focused on Elizabeth the Queen, some were specific to Elizabeth the woman.
The wreath that adorned her coffin while she rested at Balmoral Castle was arranged with flowers from Queen Elizabeth’s own garden, including cuttings from her personal favorite blooms. In several key locations, regiments fired off 96-round salutes, one round for each year of the Queen’s life. In a particularly sweet touch, both the Queen’s corgis and her horse stood at attention, waiting as her coffin arrived at Windsor Castle. The Queen enjoyed riding throughout her life and famously adored corgis.
Each little touch of personalization added depth to the services honoring her life, making everything that much more meaningful.
(Balmoral Castle in Scotland, where Queen Elizabeth spent her final days)
3. By Providing Opportunities for Public Memorialization & Gratitude
Lastly, the fact that the Royal family has allowed and encouraged public displays of affection and gratitude is both touching and necessary. As human beings, we need to take action when something or someone matters.
For government buildings or businesses, this meant displaying posters of Queen Elizabeth or flying the Union Jack at half-mast. For the general populace, people have found different ways to express their grief and their gratitude. From leaving flowers, Paddington bears, marmalade, hand-drawn portraits and notes, to creating a one-of-a-kind sand mural, people are finding unique and personal ways to say goodbye.
And it seems that the Queen knew just how important this opportunity for remembrance is to the healing process. Not only was Westminster Abbey open to allow the public to pay their respects, the Queen commissioned a custom hearse with the public in mind. With its large windows and extra lighting, the vehicle enhanced the opportunity to say goodbye by giving a full and clear view of her coffin.
People took advantage of every possible opportunity. Some dropped off notes and mementoes, some watched the funeral on television, and some stood in line for hours to get into the Abbey. The point is, people were able to pay their respects and say goodbye in a meaningful way.
(Windsor Castle, a home dear to Queen Elizabeth and the location of her final resting place)
What Can We Learn from Queen Elizabeth’s Example?
While the vast majority of us are not extremely rich or Royal, our lives are still worth honor and remembrance. Queen Elizabeth had a funeral fit for a queen because that’s who she was. But who are you? What defines your life and makes you who you are? You can create a funeral that reflects your life and personality and provides your family and friends the opportunity to say goodbye in a personalized way.
Over time, the value of the funeral service has been minimized and overlooked, but it’s so necessary. Queen Elizabeth’s funeral brings that reality into sharper focus. Look at how many people came out in droves because they felt the need to participate, to heal, to feel that they had done right by the Queen. Your own family and friends feel the same about your life!
Dr. Alan Wolfelt, a nationally respected grief counselor and educator, has this to say about the funeral:
“Rich in history and rife with symbolism, the funeral ceremony helps us acknowledge the reality of the death, gives testimony to the life of the deceased, encourages the expression of grief…, provides support to mourners, allows for the embracing of faith and beliefs about life and death, and offers continuity and hope for the living.”
So, here’s the challenge: be like the Queen and be intentional about how your life is celebrated. What traditions characterize your family? Are there things you are passionate about? What makes you who you are? Use the answers to create a funeral service that truly reflects your life. This will allow the people who know and love you to celebrate you uniquely and personally.
(St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle, the location of Queen Elizabeth’s interment)
If you decide to plan ahead for your funeral wishes, you might not know where to start. Here are some resources to help.
Uvalde, Texas, is grieving. America is grieving. A single man has committed a crime of unimaginable violence, taking the lives of at least 21 people—19 of them children—and now an entire country is bereft.
Whether you live near Uvalde or far away, whether you personally know someone connected to the tragedy or not, you are probably grieving. Because you have empathy, you are grieving on behalf of the families whose loved ones were so senselessly taken from them. Grief is normal and necessary. In addition, you may be experiencing a loss of a sense of safety for your own family and others you care about. You may have lost a sense of goodness in the world. You might also have lost trust or pride in your country or community. You are also probably wrestling with why this happened, as well, and your search for answers is part of your grief.
As the Director of the Center for Loss & Life Transition, please know that your grief is normal and necessary. In these early days, you are likely to feel numbed by shock and disbelief. This is nature’s way of protecting us from acknowledging the full reality of a terrible loss all at once. You may be struggling with anger, helplessness, sadness, despair, and other emotions as well, especially now, at a time when other worldwide events are already stressing everyone’s mental health.
Whatever you are feeling, it’s OK. Your feelings are not right or wrong—they simply are. Accepting your emotions and finding constructive ways to express them, bit by bit, day by day, are how you can best work through your grief.
If you find yourself thinking and talking about the violent act, this is also normal. Trying to understand what happened is what our minds often do. If this is true for you, the ongoing process of learning more about what happened and discussing the shooting with others will likely help you begin to survive this difficult time.
If, however, as a result of the murders you find yourself battling with nightmares or insomnia, paralyzing fears about the deaths, panic attacks, or other severe symptoms, you may be struggling with traumatic grief, which is a close cousin to post-traumatic stress, or PTS. If this is true for you, please talk to your family doctor or therapist about the intensity of your response. They can help you manage your most disabling symptoms and find ways to continue functioning day to day.
Over time and with the support of others, your grief can be integrated into your life. The key to getting through this terrible time is expressing your inner grief outside of yourself. This is called mourning. Ways to mourn include talking about your thoughts and feelings with others, crying, journaling, writing condolence cards to the families directly affected, participating in an online support group, praying or other spiritual practices, making art, helping others in your community, and anything that helps you feel like you are sharing or demonstrating your thoughts and feelings in some way. Active, ongoing mourning gives your grief movement and is the process through which you will eventually reconcile your grief.
I especially encourage you to reach out to others. We as human beings need personal contact. When we are grieving, we also need emotional support. So I urge 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. Stay connected as much as possible and 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. My thoughts and prayers are with you.
About the Author
Dr. Alan Wolfelt is an author and educator on the topic of healing in grief. He serves as Director of the Center for Loss and Life Transition and is a past recipient of the Association of Death Education and Counseling’s Death Educator Award. Dr. Wolfelt has written many compassionate, bestselling books in an effort to help people mourn well so they can continue to love and live well, including Healing Your Traumatized Heart. Visit www.centerforloss.com to learn more about the natural and necessary process of grief and mourning.
The events of September 11, 2001, are forever ingrained in the memories of Americans (and people around the world) who were old enough to remember the day. Who could forget the terrifying videos and images paired with the stories of heroic courage coming out of New York, Pennsylvania, and the Pentagon that infamous day? And it’s to our credit that we don’t forget. We should never forget but always remember the lives lost on 9/11.
Why is it so important to remember?
Dr. Alan Wolfelt, nationally recognized grief counselor and educator, has found that remembrance is an important part of grieving. We can’t move forward (healing) until we look back (remembrance). In his own words, he says:
I encourage you to take grief’s hand and let it lead you through the darkness and toward the light. You may not see the light at first, but forge ahead with courage, and with the faith that the light of hope and happiness does exist. Feel your pain, sorrow, sadness, disbelief, agony, heartbreak, fear, anxiety, and loneliness as much as you can.
This may seem odd, as these emotions could well be the ones you most want to avoid. You might fall into the common thinking of our society that denying these feelings will make them go away. You might have the urge to “keep your chin up” and stay busy and wait to “get over” your grief. Yet, ironically, the only way to help these hard feelings pass is to wade in the muck of them. To get in and get dirty. Grief isn’t clean, tidy, or convenient. Yet feeling it and expressing it is the only way to feel whole, once again.
How does the act of remembrance help us as communities and a nation?
1. Remembrance creates an opportunity to share life stories
In so many ways, telling a life story is an essential part of healing. As we learn more about the individual stories of those who perished on 9/11, we are forced to confront the pain and suffering of that day. Even more than that, we see each victim as a person worthy of value. A person deeply loved by others, many of whom are still living. A person whose life was cut short but whose memory lives forever.
By telling the stories of the airline passengers, the firefighters, the bankers, the receptionists, the military personnel, the bystanders, and so many more, we grapple with the national and personal grief we feel and honor the lives of those lost to horrifying events.
2. Remembrance strengthens community bonds
In remembering and grieving together as a nation, we strengthen the bonds in our community. Ask a person born before 1994 where they were when the Twin Towers fell, and they can likely give you a detailed description of exactly where they were and what they were doing when they heard the news.
Every American was touched by the events of 9/11 in some way. As we mark this day, even so many years later, it’s a chance to remember together, to mourn together, and to connect to each other in a profound way. If possible, consider attending a 9/11 remembrance event in your area where you can connect with your community while honoring the lives of those lost.
3. Remembrance re-connects us to our past
We’ve all seen how details can be forgotten or overlooked with the passage of time, even in our own memories. By taking time to intentionally remember, we can connect with the past. We can learn from what has already happened. We can pave the way toward a better future.
Conversations about a painful event are not something to be feared. Healing doesn’t come from blocking out what has happened but from acknowledging it and facing it. By intentionally remembering the events of 9/11 and the lives of those who died, we participate in a healing action – a ritual – that will not only bring hope and healing but will ensure that lives were not lost in vain.
This year, as we remember September 11th, let’s reflect on what matters most in life. That’s exactly what a group of students in a New York classroom did one year after 9/11. This is what they had to say:
We were eight.
Before September 11th, we would wake up with a list of “Don’t Forgets”
Don’t forget to wash your face
Don’t forget to brush your teeth
Don’t forget to do your homework
Don’t forget to wear your jacket
Don’t forget to clean your room
Don’t forget to take a bath
After September 11th, we wake up with a list of “Remembers”
Remember to greet the sun each morning
Remember to enjoy every meal
Remember to thank your parents for their hard work
Remember to honor those who keep you safe
Remember to value each person you meet
Remember to respect others’ beliefs
Now we are nine.
So, let us remember. Let us be unified. Let us never forget and be the better for it.
“To make life a little better for people less fortunate than you, that’s what I think a meaningful life is. One lives not just for oneself but for one’s community.” – Ruth Bader Ginsburg
As we mark Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s passing, we cannot help but reflect on her life and the legacy she leaves behind. Her life was characterized by drive, passion, perseverance, and tenacity. As only the second woman to be appointed to the Supreme Court, Ginsburg lived a life of service and commitment to the United States of America.
Born on March 15, 1933, Ginsburg was the second daughter of working-class parents in Brooklyn, New York. Though her parents did not attend college, they encouraged Ginsberg in her studies. She eventually graduated from Cornell University with her bachelor’s degree and Columbia Law School with her law degree.
She married Martin Ginsburg in 1954, and after supporting him through a cancer diagnosis in 1956, Ginsburg completed law school and moved into employment, where she encountered gender discrimination. It was this early experience that led her to champion women’s rights and work to achieve gender equality.
After teaching at Rutgers University Law School and Columbia Law School, she was appointed to the U.S. Court of Appeals by President Carter. Then, in 1993, President Clinton appointed her to the Supreme Court, where she served for 27 years. In 2010, her husband of 56 years, “the only young man I dated who cared that I had a brain,” died of cancer. Despite her grief, she finished out the 2010 term at the Supreme Court.
She continued to serve as a Supreme Court Justice until her death from pancreatic cancer on September 18, 2020.
Major Career Accomplishments
First female tenured professor at Columbia Law School
Co-founded the first law journal devoted to gender inequality
Director of the Women’s Rights Project of the American Civil Liberties Union
Appointed to U.S. Court of Appeals as a judge
Appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court
Presented as a lawyer and/or ruled as a Supreme Court Justice on a number of landmark cases
The Importance of a Legacy
As we look back at Ginsburg’s life, none of us can deny that she leaves a legacy. But a legacy is not only for prominent people. Every single one of us leaves a legacy of some kind. It’s up to us whether that legacy is good, bad, or somewhere in between.
“Carve your name on hearts, not tombstones. A legacy is etched into the minds of others and the stories they share about you.” — Shannon L. Alder
Look at your own life and determine what kind of legacy you want to leave. And then, ask yourself, “Does my life reflect the legacy I want it to?” If it doesn’t, start thinking about big and small things you can change in your life to build the legacy you want.
Reflect on those who left a legacy for you
Every person is affected by the generations that came before, whether they want to be or not. It’s apparent in Ginsburg’s life that her parents, especially her mother, left a lasting legacy. So, think about your parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, schoolteachers, coaches, neighbors, friends, and even people throughout history or in public service who have had an impact on the way you view yourself and the world. Each of these people left a legacy with you – some good, some bad. Now, think about the legacy you’ve built so far with those around you. Are you happy with it? Or are there some things you’d like to change?
Realize that leaving a legacy is not a choice
Whether you want to or not, you will leave a legacy because the people around you will remember you a certain way, depending on how you handled yourself and treated others. It’s up to you whether you have an accidental legacy or an intentional one. While Ginsburg may or may not have initially set out to create a legacy, she did nonetheless. There’s nothing you can do to prevent people from forming an opinion of you, but you can contribute to whether that opinion – your legacy with that person – teaches them how to live well and love others or not.
Remember that quality time spent with others is the most important
When you involve yourself in the lives of others, you have an impact on their lives. Just as Ginsburg had a profound impact on her children and countless others, so can you. As the saying goes, when we near the end of our lives, we don’t wish we had worked more, we wish we had lived more. That includes spending time with the most important people. As you seek to leave a legacy:
Looks for opportunities to know others and be known by them
Model and teach what’s most important
Compliment, encourage, and build up our family, children, and grandchildren
Share the wisdom that you have gained in your life and pass along the knowledge
With our legacies, we contribute to the future. What we do and say affects the lives of others and has the power to create good or bad. What we do matters. Most of us are not prominent people whose names are known by thousands, but that doesn’t ultimately matter. Instead, it is our responsibility as good men and women to create legacies that will take our families and the next generation to a level we can only imagine.
Let’s be intentional about the impact we have on others and create legacies worth remembering.
If someone you love has died during the novel coronavirus pandemic, you have come to grief in an exceptionally challenging moment in history. You may have been separated from your loved one as they were dying. You may have been unable to view or spend time with the body after the death. You may have been prevented from having the full funeral you wanted because of gathering and travel restrictions. And people who care about you may not have been able to be near you to support you in your grief. These and other pandemic-related barriers to the cultural grief rituals we rely on may be making your grief journey especially painful.
I am sorry you have been so deeply affected by this hardship.
As a grief counselor and educator, I know that ceremony helps mourners through the early days and weeks of their grief and can also support their healing in the months and years to come. Funerals are for the living. When funerals are personalized and rich in elements that are meaningful to friends and family, they help mourners set off on a healthy mourning path.
But if you couldn’t have an immediate funeral because of the pandemic, or if the ceremony you were able to have felt incomplete or unsatisfactory, I want you to know that you can still use ceremony to help you and others who are mourning this death. I hope these ten freedoms provide you with affirmation and ideas.
1. You have the freedom to embrace ceremony.
The funeral does more than acknowledge the death of someone loved. It also helps provide you with the support of caring people. It is a way for you and others who loved the person who died to say, “We mourn this death, and we need each other during this painful time.” If others tell you that funerals are unnecessary or old-fashioned, don’t listen. They simply haven’t been educated about all the reasons why humans have relied on funerals since the beginning of time.
2. You have the freedom to hold an immediate private ceremony.
If you were not able to have a bedside ceremony, funeral, committal, or any form of service shortly after the death, you can choose to have a private ceremony right now. Ask a spiritual leader, officiant, family member, or friend to help you plan a simple online meeting using Zoom, Teams, or another tool. You can also hold a small candle-lighting ceremony at your dining-room table.
3. You have the freedom to plan one or more ceremonies to be held later.
Especially if you couldn’t have the ceremony you wanted at the time of the death, you can still hold one or more memorial ceremonies in the months to come, when gathering and travel restrictions are lifted. Remember that a delayed ceremony is a much healthier choice for your family than no ceremony.
4. Yes, you have the freedom to have more than one ceremony!
Ceremony helps grieving people heal. And multiple ceremonies are especially helpful in supporting families through complicated loss circumstances such as yours. For example, you might have an online ceremony now followed by a full ceremony and gathering later this year and then a smaller graveside or scattering ceremony on the anniversary of the death. You will find that each time you hold a ceremony, your grief softens and integrates into your ongoing life a bit more.
5. You have the freedom to plan a ceremony that will meet the unique needs of your family.
Keep in mind that any ceremonies you plan can and should be customized to honor the unique person who died as well as meet your unique family’s needs and wishes. There are no real rules about what you should or shouldn’t do, and your ceremony can be spiritual, religious, or secular—whatever you wish.
6. You have the freedom to feel all of your feelings about the circumstances of the death as well as any ceremony difficulties you may be having.
Because of the challenging and limiting circumstances in which your loved one died, you may be experiencing heightened anger, anxiety, guilt, regret, helplessness, despair, and other difficult feelings in addition to your normal grief. Remember that your feelings are naturally complicated because the situation is complicated. Talking out your feelings regularly with a trusted listener will help.
7. You have the freedom to make use of memories.
You may feel “stuck” in this pandemic moment, unable to carry out all the actions you would like to in honor of the person who died, but you still have the freedom to lean upon your memories. During this dormant time, gathering photos, video clips, memorabilia, and life stories will help you acknowledge the reality of the death and honor the life that was lived. Sharing memories with others will help everyone as well. Then, when it comes time to have a memorial service in the coming months, photos and memories will already be prepared.
8. You have the freedom to reach out and connect.
The isolation you may be experiencing as a result of the pandemic is not conducive to healing. You need and deserve the support of others during this challenging time. Others mourning the death need support as well. So, even if you can’t gather in person with others right now, you can still reach out for and accept support. 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.
9. You have the freedom to ask others to be involved in any ceremonies you plan.
Funeral and memorial ceremonies can have lots of moving parts and may require a good deal of planning. Many hands make light work. You can ask several people to help with the planning and carrying out of tasks. In fact, ceremonies in which many people take part are often the most meaningful to everyone involved. You do not need to do this alone.
10. You have the freedom to move toward your grief and heal.
When it comes to grieving the death of this precious person, you may feel somewhat in limbo during the pandemic. An immediate ceremony will help you feel a degree of progress. In addition, you can move toward your grief by acknowledging and expressing your feelings (see number 6, above), doing memory work (number 7), and reaching out to others (number 8). Giving attention to your natural and necessary grief in all these ways is essential.
Thank you for entrusting me to teach you about the ten freedoms for using ceremony during the pandemic. Despite the restrictions, I hope you will find ways to use ceremony to befriend your grief and begin to heal. You are in my thoughts and prayers. Godspeed.
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 www.centerforloss.com to learn more about grief and loss.
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.
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.
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.
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 www.centerforloss.com to learn more about grief and loss and to order Dr. Wolfelt’s books.
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 www.centerforloss.com.
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. Facemasks 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 homemay 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.
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 onefactor 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 followingspecific guidelinesprovided 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 practicingsocial distancing, frequent handwashing, and even avoiding large gatherings. However, depending on your health status, state and local restrictions, and yourhousehold’s risk level, you may simply be unable tophysically attenda 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, clickhere.
4. Check in regularly on those who are grieving.
You might not be able to be present with your grieving friend inperson, 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.