We recently covered how to navigate grief during the COVID-19 pandemic. We found that there are a number of factors that make our grief experiences during COVID-19 unique and particularly challenging:
- We are grieving the death of people within and outside of our communities.
- We are grieving more than death.
- We are grieving what’s to come.
- There’s been little or no relief and the losses are exponential.
- We are talking about grief and death on a daily basis.
- Our mourning is happening in new spaces (or not at all).
- It’s impacting people of all ages.
- The COVID-19 pandemic and grief are disproportionately impacting People of Color.
The compounding of all of this sheds light on the significance of caring for ourselves and those around us. Though we are experiencing grief and grieving in new ways, there is a huge influx of resources, outlets, and methods for navigating these challenging times. We outline some of these below.
Preparing for grief and the future of COVID-19
#1: Don’t conflate mental health, grief, and mourning.
Michelle Williams, Co-founder of Being Here, Human has clarified important distinctions between mental health / mental illness, grief, and mourning. These are important to remember when caring for others and when assessing how to handle our own experience, as they help us seek the right support and resources for what we need.
Grief: Our full experience after a loss. “This involuntary response can include profound impacts on our physical, emotional, cognitive, spiritual, social, and sexual selves,” says Williams. “These multi-layered responses occur without our participation or our consent. We don’t get to decide how, where or when our grief will show up.”
Mourning: How we express our grief. “Mourning is often described as our grief gone public. This does not mean that it requires an audience but rather it describes any and all rituals, actions and ceremonies we take part in to help us digest and metabolize our grief,” says Williams.
Note on mental illness: We should not equate grief with mental illness. “We have a history in the western world of pathologizing grief. Grief is a natural, involuntary response to loss. It does not require professional or medical intervention,” says Williams.
#2. Maintain a connection with your community.
Staying connected in some form will help us all navigate grief in the pandemic.
“While my career involves extolling the power of deep connection, even I have been surprised by just how much that matters,” says Sara Deren, Founder and Chief Experience Officer of Experience Camps, a national network of summer camps for children and teens. “Our recent pulse survey of nearly 200 grieving kids and their parents found that the top sources of hope for grieving kids are time with family and their camp experience. That outstripped even the promise of science, the remarkable inspiration of front line medical workers, and the power of people helping one another right now.”
Community counts, Deren tells us. “Finding your squad of people who ‘get it’ allows you to forge connections with the wider community.”
Reach out to people.
Send messages (text messages, letters, emails, or even social DMs) to people who you care about. You can ask for help or offer help, just stay in touch to reduce isolation and continue bonds with those who make your light feel safe and rich.
In addition to family and friends, consider reaching out to professionals to help you plan (like this exploratory resource “In the time of corona” from Oceana Sawyer) or connect with mental health professionals that are trained to support you through loss and grief.
Find new spaces to mourn and grieve (for now)
Though these are no replacement for grieving in the arms of a loved one or gathering for a funeral, death professionals are finding ways to help people mourn in the interim via zoom, social media, virtual memorial services, and more. Consider new ways you can celebrate or think about holidays and create unique connection points that don’t involve technology at all.
#3. Learn about death and grief.
Understanding what grief is and how it shows up for us is an important first step to taking care of ourselves and those around us.
Digital resources focused on grief and grieving:
- Modern Loss
- What’s Your Grief
- Refuge in Grief
- Oceana Sawyer
- Naomi Edmondson
- The Grief Safe Space
Resources focused on how to talk about death and grief:
- An intimate discussion on loss, memorialization, protest and mobilization during the COVID-19 pandemic with TalkDeath and Reimagine
- How can we be ‘death positive’ during COVID-19? Podcast with TalkDeath and A Positive Death UK
- Talking about death during COVID-19 from The Other of the Good Death
- A guide for how to think and talk about wishes for care in era of COVID-19 by The Conversation Project
#4. Listen actively to your people and yourself.
“Whether we are trying to comfort a grieving child or adult, we would do well to keep in mind that needs are profoundly individual and can change with surprising speed. The most effective approach is to ask and listen,” says Deren.
There are many things to consider before you reach out to someone, and showing up well-informed about how you can be the best support person you can be is incredibly important. Listen openly and actively to people who confide in you about your grief. And listen to yourself – what your grief is telling you through your body and emotions.
#5. Honor your grief and pain.
Though grief can often make us feel like we are lacking control, consider what you can control and actively tend to and respect your experience.
Recognize that grieving during and after COVID-19 is valid, fair, and complicated. You might be feeling all kinds of new experiences, or even in an extreme form of exhaustion known as grief burnout. And though grief can often make us feel like we are lacking control, consider what you can control and actively tend to and respect your experience.
“One tween we surveyed said, ‘I just want it all to go back to normal.’ It’s a sentiment many of us share, although there is a danger to expecting to move forward too fast,” says Deren.
“I see a similar risk in how some may respond to the pandemic, economic stress, and movement for racial equity. We need to stay in it together for the long haul. Many parts of our society are facing tremendous loss. Ignoring our grief is to ignore our full potential, which is the last thing we can afford to lose. When we move through grief in this way – acknowledging it, allowing space for individual differences, bringing people together, and staying in it for the long haul – remarkable things are possible.”
Above all, be careful with yourself, be kind to yourself, and don’t downplay your pain. Seek resources, support, and care even when things feel “small” or insignificant.
#6. Allow resilience to emerge.
“Loss is hard, and it is not made easier by platitudes. Paradoxically, by not sugar-coating loss, resilience may be more likely to emerge”
If you can find space for resilience, or encounter opportunities to practice it, consider letting it in. The changes we’ve faced are profound, but the pain and uncertainty can be balanced by adaptability and finding strength in our ability to support ourselves and one another in new ways.
“Loss is hard, and it is not made easier by platitudes. Paradoxically, by not sugar-coating loss, resilience may be more likely to emerge,” says Deren.
“Acknowledge the hard reality that you and others are experiencing, and have faith that you can emerge stronger. New York Life found that 68% of adults felt that experiencing loss as a child made them better prepared to handle other adverse circumstances in their life. In our survey, 83% of parents said they have seen their child using coping skills learned from their grief experience to help them navigate the pandemic – and the majority of kids told us they have used those skills to support others during COVID-19.”
Resources about Grief and COVID-19
For group and individual grief support during COVID-19:
- The COVID Grief Network
- Experience Camps, Our House, The Dougy Center, and National center for school crisis and bereavement for children and teens
- Safe House services for grieving BIPOC from Being Here, Human
- Grief Coach app
- Oceana Sawyer’s BIPOC-only Death Cafes
- Dr. Diana Quinn’s Holding Healthcare Workers: a healing justice practice space for healthcare providers and staff
- Reimagine events
- Crisis Text Line
Toolkits and guides for grief and COVID-19:
- COVID Paper from the Virtual Funeral Collective and Baylor University
- Covid-19 Toolkit from The Order of the Good Death
- How to navigate end of life during a pandemic from Lantern
- Story-sharing and listening guidebook for virtual gatherings from The People’s Supper
- Week of Wellness resources from Our House Grief Support
- Food and grief ritual toolkit fromThe Dinner Party
- Addressing grief inclusivity in the workplace by Collective
- Virtual memorial guide and video from TalkDeath
Resources for end-of-life planning and virtual memorial services:
- Keeper Memorials
- Funerals In Absentia: Inspiration & Tips During Covid-19 by Order of the Good Death
- Burials & Funerals Under Covid-19 by Order of The Good Death
- Boom Time for Death Planning by The New York Times
- EOL Community
- A Sacred Passing
- Sayin’ It Louder: How to have a good death in a racist society