Grief and bereavement are common, yet painful experiences in our lives. With the pandemic, there is a small proportion of people who die from COVID-19 or its complications, especially those with other medical illness. This can be a painful and shocking experience for family members. Because of isolation precautions and travel restrictions, the grieving process can be made more difficult because family members might not be able to be by their loved one’s side in the final dying moments. There are also various restrictions to funerals and related ceremonies. Family members whose loved ones die from the virus or other causes abroad experience similar difficulties in their grieving process. People who experienced grief previously can be triggered at this time as well.
The Experience of Grief
While it may feel like nothing can take away the pain of grief, it is helpful to recognize and understand the grief experience. The grief process can begin when our loved one is dying and can last weeks to months to years after our loved one has passed away. Commonly known as “stages of grief”, we now know that they are not necessarily stages experienced in the same order by everyone and you may feel mixed emotions along the grief process.
- Denial: With shock, we may have a hard time to take in and admit to ourselves that our loved one is truly dying or gone. We may feel numb or try our best not to think about it. We may even have a hard time crying.
- Anger: We may feel a lot of anger over losing a loved one. It feels so unfair. We may look for someone to blame. We may blame the healthcare workers for not doing enough. Or the government. Or even ourselves. “I should have talked to him more several months ago to make him feel more at peace.”
- Bargaining: We may come to feel that there are things that we can do or should have done to prevent death. “I promise to pray every day if she gets better from the infection.” “If I have taken him to a different nursing home, he would have lived.” This can lead to self-blame, guilt, or anger.
- Despair: We may take in the loss and feel a deep sense of sadness and sorrow. It may feel like that this pain will have no end.
- Acceptance: We may come to terms with losing our loved ones. It does not mean we do not feel sad about losing our loved ones. It is accepting that our loved ones can no longer be with us physically.
Coping with Grief
- Grief is a painful yet normal experience. There are common reactions that we all tend to experience. Allow yourself to experience different kinds of emotions and thoughts, even conflicting ones, knowing that this is all a process. At the same time, recognize and let go of some of these thoughts, such as self-blame, which are normal, but may not be helpful.
- Support from family and friends can be very important at this time. Family members grieving together can help each other through this process. For some, seeking spiritual support or support from your faith community is especially important. Do not hesitate to reach out, even if this is through electronic means.
- While well-meaning, you may get messages about how you ought to think or feel and how quickly you should get through grief. You can thank people for their concerns and at the same time remind them that each person’s journey in grief can be different. If they say something that is hurtful, try communicating your emotions to them so that they can better understand your experience.
- It may be helpful to let others know how they can best support you. Sometimes you just need someone to listen. Or to provide you support in other ways, such as helping out with some of your daily tasks, like grocery shopping, especially given the various restrictions and precautions.
- Grief is sometimes about working through your relationships with your loved ones. It is ok to reminiscence about your loved ones, both the happy moments and even the unhappy moments. Having compassion for yourself and your loved ones and cherishing the importance of that relationship can be helpful in the healing journey.
- We are forever touched by our loved ones even though they are not physically around. We can begin to notice the different ways we can honour our loved ones in our present lives.
- Self-care is important. Some people may feel guilty when they start engaging in or enjoying self-care activities. Your loved ones would not want you to be punished or suffer, which does not benefit anyone.
- As our emotions come and go, use moments that you feel better to re-engage in activities that matter to you. When painful feelings come back, it does not mean you have failed – that is a part of grieving. Allow these feelings to be there as visitors that will also leave in their own time.
- Although some of the services and support groups may be closed, there may be others who can support you. If you feel you are not able to cope even though you have tried the above, reach out for professional help, from healthcare providers, social service providers, or faith leaders.
For more information on Grief and available services: