Living with loss

Thought of the week

The global COVID-19 pandemic is dramatically impacting on our lives leaving us to face a new normality.

Our usual routines and rhythms are disrupted. We are social distancing, isolating, working from home, home schooling. Weddings, concerts, meetings, travel plans, school events and more have been cancelled. We are concerned for ourselves and our loved ones, worrying about finances and clearly anxious about our own, and our collective, futures. We have lost our normal connection with each other, our engagement in the mundane routines and daily rituals we previously took for granted - and all at rapid pace.

Tragically we are also facing the loss of thousands of lives, some dying in disturbing ways, and many alone, without physical contact from those they love.

You may have heard the sad news that Barry England, one of our own LOM’s, has succumbed to Covid 19. This news brings home the fact that some of us will possibly be losing friends, family and colleagues; people close to us who touch us and our everyday lives. 

Under normal circumstances we might gather with friends and family to cry, share happy memories, and offer care and support to one another. But COVID-19 has disabled us; we cannot engage in traditions that facilitate the grieving process making it more difficult to cope.

We are all, at some level, dealing with shattered assumptions and our own level of grief; how we deal with this depends on our overall resilience and our support systems. Whatever else, we need to treat ourselves and each other with kindness.

Signs of grief

Grief is normal.It is something we will all experience. And we will all deal with it in our own way, in our own time. Usual signs include:

  • Feelings of shock, numbness, sadness, anxiety
  • Trouble focusing on normal tasks
  • Sleeping much more or less than usual
  • Feelings of anger and irritability
  • Headaches and upset stomach
  • Fatigue or low energy
  • Re-experiencing feelings of past grief
  • Engaging in activities such as eating, drinking, or online shopping to cope with anxiety

If you have suffered loss as a result of COVID-19, you may also experience:

  • Avoidance - not thinking or talking about the pandemic
  • Feelings of guilt - you could not be there to offer comfort to a loved one; try to not get caught in feelings of guilt - this situation is not in our control
  • Lack of closure - grieving usually allows you a time to say goodbye
  • Loss of tradition/ritual - offering respect to the deceased and emotional support to the grieving
  • Feelings of isolation - we are having to grieve alone rather than find comfort in others

 

Ways you can cope with grief

Know that you are not alone, and there are some things you can do that may help.

Consider postponing grief
Sometimes it makes sense to postpone the grieving process, and the COVID-19 pandemic may be one of them. You may not be able to afford to grieve in the moment - you have another shift to complete, children to home-school! The natural surges of emotion will come, but it is OK to put them aside and know that you will be able to grieve fully as soon as you have a chance.

Look after yourself
There is no need for you to pretend: this is not a normal time and you will feel that every task is enormous.  However, focus on the basics and ensure you are eating, staying hydrated, and getting enough rest. This will keep you well enough to face the coming days.

Remember that your feelings are valid
There is no right or wrong way to feel after you lose someone or something; grief is personal. Symptoms don’t follow a sequential timeline; you can go back and forth as time moves on. Give yourself the time and space you need to work through your emotions. Loss takes time to integrate into our lives, and this is harder when our world has been disrupted in so many different ways.

It is important not to engage in comparison of loss too: even if you have not experienced a pandemic related death, your loss is both valid and legitimate. 

Reach out to family and friends
It may be tempting to shut people out when you are grieving, and COVID-19 may further reduce the physical presence of your friends and family.

But it is still important to maintain an emotional connection to people who will support you during this time.  Use technology, share photographs and memories to keep your relationships going.

Give yourself time 
There is no need to rush through the pain of loss. Reaching a place of acceptance takes time; this is when you acknowledge the loss, but know you will always have the memories and all that went with them.

Explore coping techniques
You may not be able to meet with a professional right now, but you can find ways to help yourself.  Mindfulness, visualisation and writing may all help you release and explore your feelings; how the world has changed, what you have observed, how you are managing, what strengths you are discovering.

Check-In with others
Virtual meetings can never replace real-life support, but regular phone calls and text messages can help bridge the gap. If you are grieving, make it a habit to reach out to your friends and family each day.

If you want to offer support to someone who has experienced a loss, then reach out.  Listen without judgment or criticism: remember that there is no solution - only validation. Offer practical support (ie picking up groceries) but remember that too much information can be overwhelming. 

Tell stories — and listen
Sharing memories is helpful at any time and in the current situation may allow you to slowly make some sense out of a life that may have ended in a way that doesn’t make sense to you.

And finally
The good news is that most of us tend to be resilient in the face of grief. We may be dealing with an unprecedented situation right now, but past experience and research reassures us that once the immediate crisis has passed, people are usually able to reach a place of acceptance where they are able to adapt, move into the new normality, and find ways to cope with their loss.

 

“The pain passes, but the beauty remains” Pierre Auguste Renoir

 

If you, or someone you know, finds it difficult to move forward from grief there is a great deal of help and support available to you.

Please use our sources of help guide in the first instance. For further information on any of the above topics contact wellbeing@eastamb.nhs.uk 

 

 

 

Published 23rd April 2020

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