grieving woman on a sofa

Coronavirus: grief and the loss of normality

Posted by AK Lander | On June 18, 2020 00:00

We spoke to three grief writers about why our grief may feel worse during the pandemic, and some advice and guidance to help you through it.

To say the world is going through a ‘strange time’ is an understatement. From the business closures to the loss of loved ones, the coronavirus pandemic has turned the world upside down, and trying to navigate through this new life not knowing how we are going to come out on the other side is hard to comprehend.

For many, this strange new world we live in has meant experiencing hardships and feelings that are difficult to process. But for those who have suffered a bereavement, these feelings are no stranger – they’re feelings of grief.

We spoke to three grief writers about why our grief may feel worse during the pandemic, and some advice and guidance for helping you through it.

We’re grieving the loss of normality

The first grief writer we spoke to was Shelby Forsythia. Shelby believes one of the many reasons our grief may feel worse right now is because we are also grieving the loss of our old lives.

“It's common to grieve all kinds of disenfranchised loss in the midst of COVID-19. Disenfranchised loss is a loss that is generally unacknowledged by society and often lacks the physical marker of death. Examples of disenfranchised loss include job loss, financial loss, loss of health, and the loss of security and stability. Forced changes in routine due to physical distancing and government-mandated lockdowns can increase the isolation brought on by disenfranchised loss.”

We also spoke to grief author Debbie Augenthaler. Debbie also agrees that we are grieving the loss of ‘normality’, but as well as experiencing the losses of jobs, weddings and graduations, we are also grieving another kind of intangible loss.

“Known as ambiguous loss, we are grieving the freedom to socialise, to travel, to walk out your front door and not be worried about becoming sick, and wondering when you can safely hug someone again. Ambiguous loss complicates and delays the grieving process, and often results in unresolved grief.”

grandmother and grandson social distancing

There’s a loss of connection when we need it most

Christi Diamond is a grief and loss coach at The Healing Coach. She believes that another reason our grief may feel worse during the pandemic is the loss of connection with our friends, family and others who support us through our grief day-to-day.

“Part of what may exacerbate the grief itself is that we as human beings crave connection. It is a natural part of our make-up as a human being. We crave being seen by others, not just physically but emotionally. The distance that this pandemic has created has been aggravated by the fact that we can’t be physically held or touched, neither can we be listened to in the presence of our loved ones when we desperately need to feel seen and heard in our own grief.

“I was talking to a woman who had two close friends lose their spouses during the pandemic. She felt overwhelmed at not being able to sit and be there for them, attend the funerals, comfort and hold them as they both dealt with their own heavy feelings of sadness and loss or even help them carry the burden by helping them clean or make arrangements.

“The culmination of grieving on top of experiencing this sudden change in how we interact, socialise and even comfort each other has created an isolating distance from the very natural parts of ourselves that are human - our desire to be in each other’s presence, hold space for each other and feel the safety of our loved ones around us physically present and engaged in our lives. It has created a sense of isolation, separation, and aloneness.”

Our personal grief is being triggered

It seems the losses of ‘normality’ we are experiencing day-to-day can actually have an effect on our own personal grief. “The world as we knew it is gone,” says Debbie. “We don’t know what the new normal will look like.

“This inundation of loss, and the many layers of grief, can feel like a flood that overwhelms us. This is natural and understandable. When our anxiety escalates in this way, our brain is wired to interpret it as danger and our bodies respond by going into survival mode (the innate fight, flight, or freeze response). This causes the “thinking” part of our brain (the prefrontal cortex) to shut down, and we can only feel, unable to think clearly. This often causes anxiety or panic attacks.”           

For those of us that are bereaved, experiencing a life-altering loss, such as the ones caused by the pandemic, can “trigger the hurt and trauma from older losses, which impacts and magnifies our current grief,” says Debbie. “It can bring up many unresolved ‘wounds of the heart’ and draw you deep into anxiety and despair. This is something to be aware of, and a reason to seek professional help if needed - many therapists now offer virtual sessions for this reason.”

woman video calling loved ones

Advice for managing your grief during the pandemic

Remind yourself that none of this is permanent

Although these losses can feel like the end of the world, it’s worth reminding yourself that this is all just temporary, not a permanent depiction of your life from now on. There will be other jobs, your wedding day will come, and you’ll be able to hug friends and family tight again.

Shelby says it helps to “use words like ‘right now’, ‘for now’, and ‘in this season’, to release the illusion of permanence grief often brings”, which can help train your brain into thinking of these losses as temporary.

Reach out to friends and family

We may not be able to hug our friends and family during a time when we need it most, but as the next best thing, we can still give them a call or see them at a distance.

“You might also find solace in connecting to others who are experiencing similar griefs,” Shelby explains. “While friends and family may not know exactly how you feel, this is an uncertain time for everyone, and it helps to share those fears as opposed to locking them away.

“Above all else, remember that you don't have to work through all of your grief right away. It's okay to take it in bits and pieces as you navigate the constant changes accompanying COVID-19.”

Debbie also echoes the importance of staying connected with loved ones: “My heart goes out to all of you, especially to those who are isolated alone at home. I encourage you to seek a way to stay in contact with friends and family daily, be it by phone, FaceTime, Zoom, or other means.”

Your grief is a natural reaction

It’s natural to experience grief, or for our existing grief to worsen in times of uncertainty and turmoil, and however your grief presents itself is normal.

“Remember, there is no right way or wrong way to grieve,” says Debbie. “We don’t compare griefs. Don’t try to minimise anyone’s grief, including your own. Grief isn’t linear and there is no timetable. And the myriad feelings, including anxiety, fear, and anger, are often the symptoms of grief. It’s okay to grieve. Allow yourself the time and space you need to feel your feelings.

My Toolbox Series, available for free on my website, offers videos with simple and effective techniques that can help ground and calm you in a few minutes. I strongly believe tools like this should be available to everyone. Just taking deep, deep breaths can help.”

Remember, we’re all in this together

It’s a strange time, but take some comfort in knowing that the whole world grieves with you. And together, we will come out of this stronger.

“The hopeful spirit of humanity shines in times like this,” says Debbie. “With Italians singing together through windows in small villages, to the applauses occurring to thank heroic and courageous healthcare and maintenance workers. And now, with the Black Lives Matter movement, protesters are uniting in support around the world. Coming together in community in this way, despite physical distancing, reminds and reassures us we are not alone. It’s important to feel connected - we are all in this together, and together we will get through it.”

At AK Lander, we know how hard it can be to lose someone dear to you. For advice and guidance, we have lots of resources over on our blog. Alternatively, if we can be of help while browsing UK gravestones, our team are here to help.