Grief in The Time of COVID-19

By Jan Warner

Often times people feel that they are going crazy when their emotions are actually a natural and normal reaction to what is happening in their world. In a world where a pandemic is in the news constantly and where you don’t know from one minute to the next if you and those you love are safe or in danger grief, stress, anxiety and depression are normal reactions. I no longer ask myself if anything I do is normal. I only ask myself if it serves the kind of life I want to live. If it doesn’t, I look for tools to change it. Sometimes I can, sometimes not so much.

There are many levels of grief occurring in our world today. Many of us are mourning the life we planned. Things I love to do such as theater and travel are, for the moment, gone. So are sports. Many of us have been in lockdown or still are and are feeling the pressures of isolation based not on personal choice but on lessening the risk of disease or even death. Another level is grief for the loss of a business, a job, a home, or any kind of financial security that was not at risk even as close as two or three months ago.

As if this wasn’t bad enough there is the shattering of hope of contact with loved ones who are sick, dying, or living in nursing homes or other facilities. I was lucky enough to be able to spend my husband’s dying time with him. I have talked to many people who were not able to see their parent or grandparent before their death. They knew where they were but they could not be with them. This is also true of people of all ages who die in hospitals where visitors are no longer allowed. Also taken away from us are the rituals of grieving. Funerals may not be allowed and proper burial or cremation may take much longer than in normal times. People have in some cases even lost the ability to visit their loved one’s grave site.

For me, personally, I have spent the ten years since my husband’s death working hard at not isolating and developing support systems. These are gone as well. What can we do? We can honor our feelings and judge ourselves for having them. I like to look at myself with the eyes of someone who loves me rather than my own eyes which are often more critical and judgmental. I use Facebook, Instagram. Zoom and other technology either to maintain connections or to look at things that are beautiful, comforting, or just funny. I listen to hypnosis tapes or videos (from You-Tube or I-Tunes) that address anxiety, stress, pain, and depression. I have tried to develop new rituals to replace the old. I still want to honor my dead and make them proud of me. Sometimes I am good at this, sometimes not so much. I don’t mind a good wallow in self pity as long as I rinse myself off after and try to find something a bit more cheery.

During this pandemic we are suffering, and celebrating, separately but together. I don’t particularly like being told that this too shall pass. However, I do know that what seems like forever for me in earthly time is a blink of an eye in terms of eternity. Every day is an opportunity for me to do the best I can to honor my beloved dead and to also try to find an answer to Mary Oliver’s question, “What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life.”

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