The COVID-19 pandemic has brought along with it the plague of grief. We have suffered great losses communally and individually. Many of our freedoms have been curtailed. Many have suffered overwhelming financial losses. Most have lost their routines. Most devastating of all, we have lost our loved ones. Each type of loss has caused us to grieve, and in our suffering we find ourselves at a loss as to how to console one another.
Men and women grieve differently and teens and children mourn differently than adults. There is no “right” way to deal with loss. Knowing this will allow us to be more compassionate with ourselves and with those around us who are grieving.
Elisabeth Kubler-Ross identified five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. It is important to recognize that these stages do not always follow each other neatly. These stages may overlap. You may regress to the previous stage or you may skip one stage only to return to it later. And even once you have completed all the stages Kubler-Ross and David Kessler state:
The reality is that you will grieve forever. You will not “get over” the loss of a loved one; you will learn to live with it. You will heal and you will rebuild yourself around the loss you have suffered. You will be whole again, but you will never be the same. Nor should you be the same nor would you want to.
Understanding Your Own Feelings
Because grief has many facets, you may experience many conflicting emotions. You may feel scared, relieved, resentful, or guilty – all in the same day. You may at times feel nothing at all. You may feel like crying or you may not be able to cry at all. Your feelings do not need to make sense to anyone else, or even to yourself. These are just feelings and having them is normal. Even though you are hurting, you may want to have fun or laugh for a while. Know that this is not a betrayal of your loved one.
You will have memories of the person who has died, both happy and sad. These memories help you stay connected to the person who died. The person died, not the relationship. There may be times when you feel angry at the person who has died. I have heard many a widow lament, “Why did he leave me?” A death will always trigger our most vulnerable feelings of abandonment, so your anger does not mean you did not love those who have died; it validates how connected you were to them.
Children and Grief
Alan Wolfelt, author of Understanding Your Grief: Ten Essential Touchstones for Finding Hope and Healing Your Heart believes, “Any child old enough to love, is old enough to grieve. Hurting is part of the journey on the way to healing. Not learning to mourn well results in not living well.” While teens and children will experience the same barrage of emotions as adults, if they could, a grieving child or teen would tell us, “I don’t always have words for how I’m feeling. I don’t yet have a way to talk about my emotions, so I let my behavior do the talking for me. I need a lot of safety and support from you in order to express the feelings that are hidden underneath my behavior.” It is very difficult to soothe a child or teen who lacks the words to express their loss and are acting out. Show compassion and patience in allowing them to experience and express their feelings and thoughts. Help them to understand that grief is a normal and ongoing experience and encourage learning healthy coping skills.
How to Support a Loved One who is Grieving
Joshua Loth Liebman in his book Peace of Mind reminds us “How essential it is to express rather than repress grief, to talk about one’s loss with friends and companions to move step by step from inactivity to activity again…” He credits our tradition of lessening degrees of restriction in our mourning – the shiva, the sheloshim, the year of kaddish – as “an intuitive wisdom about human nature” that comforts us after a loss.
As you try to comfort those who have suffered a loss, remember that each person copes in their own way. Allow them to have all their feelings. Do not rush them through grief. If we are uncomfortable expressing our own feelings of grief, we may try to limit this in others. Instead, listen and respond with empathy and understanding.