Why it’s okay to grieve during the Covid-19 crisis

The global pandemic of Covid-19 has changed our entire way of life. In this long read, life coach Julia Sinclair-Brown explains why it’s okay to experience feelings of grief during the current Covid-19 crisis.

So much of our lives are based around loss/change/transition – we are constantly evolving. Some of these life changes are planned, for example, moving home, starting a new job and starting a family. Others are forced upon us and are often beyond our control, such as redundancy, divorce, ill-health, and, most usually, death being the worst of them. But now the world is faced with an unplanned prospect. An unexpected loss of normalcy, loss of safety and loss of connectedness that has left us all in a state of temporary grief. 

What makes it more difficult is that this type of loss is one that is unknown. There are no self-help books that have been written to guide us through a global pandemic. At best, we’re all trying to prop each other up and stay connected with our friends and loved ones as much as possible. We are all faced with the same uncertainty: fear of what is to happen next, for how long we will remain confined to our homes and how we should cope and keep mentally sane during this undefined period.

The grief process

In grief and in the business world too, the model of the loss/change curve is often quoted (via Kubler Ross) to help people recognise where they may be in the process. It’s important to know that this loss/change curve is only a map and not a linear way to process loss.

In terms of the Covid-19 pandemic, it is apparent to see how those stages have unfolded – and very quickly. For example, the first stage was the denial of how serious this is. I, along with many others, first dismissed it quite casually as just another type of flu, waving off the seemingly early mass hysteria. But very quickly, that denial transformed into a state of shock. I said a tearful goodbye when I picked up my son from his likely last day of primary school. I could feel my emotions dissolve in to anger at how quickly this pandemic had been able to spiral.

Although we had watched from afar the changes in Italy, it seemed none of us were ready for the myriad of changes. From working from home or – more drastically – losing jobs, or fighting to keep self-employed businesses from going under. Among the financial and practical worries, many families have the added pressure of juggling a home schooling routine. There’s also the abrupt disconnection of not being able to see our family and friends, and being told when we can leave our homes. The freedom of our lives completely stolen from us almost overnight.

The new norm

It is no wonder some of us might be stagnating for a while in the early stages of loss. We’ve had to adapt very quickly. As we are forced to reach acceptance/integration stage, this may be likened to a ‘new norm.’ But it doesn’t mean that our emotions won’t fluctuate throughout this process.

One of the key areas of grief that can be reflected in any major life change is the sheer exhaustion from the mental energy that’s required to process and adapt to the loss. Normally, we’d have a period of mourning to grieve and take time out of everyday life to do so. And yet, with this global pandemic, the speed at which individuals have transitioned everything from off-line to on-line is quite remarkable. For many, adrenaline and the core need to survive are drivers. This doesn’t allow for contemplation and the luxury of time. For others, digesting and processing the loss of our normal life can feel exhausting.  

How to cope during the Covid-19 crisis

Firstly, breathe and stop for just a moment. Self-compassion during difficult life moments is the best way to get through them, but we often overlook our own wellbeing. We often feel we must show that we’re flexible and adaptable to absorb this incredibly difficult change in our lives and be ok with doing everything differently. This is everything from work, school, exercise classes, hobbies, and friendships. Many of these are swiftly moving to Zoom, WhatsApp, Facetime and phone calls. But we should be selective as to what we need to do and what we choose to do.

Maybe you’re just not inspired to start repainting your whole house, learn a new skill or join in with your online singing group. There’s almost a new pressure of having to do all the home tasks that you’ve struggled to find time for previously, or that you should be ok with your whole life activities transferring online. By cramming everything in, there isn’t any time or headspace left.

This is a rare opportunity to look inwards for a while. For some, the connections are a genuine lifeline. For others, some things are just better off waiting for. And sometimes, during a crisis, it’s ok just to read a book.

Find some control

It goes hand-in-hand when describing grief to give mention to the feeling of being ‘out of control’. Grievers commonly describe the safe world they once knew as no longer feeling safe. This is very apparent in our current lives as none of us have ever experienced this before.

The truth is we can only change the things that we can control i.e. social distancing, washing our hands regularly, making sure we take care of ourselves and our loved ones. If we continually absorb each other’s fear of what is to happen to us (ramped up by stories in the media), we are only perpetuating further these feelings of anguish and anxiety. It is just the opposite of that we need as we all weather this storm together.

As our lives are changing, take comfort with the knowledge that this is temporary. It won’t always be this way, even if we cannot now envisage our future. The best we can do for ourselves is to focus on the present moment only. That is the only certainty we have. 

Feel what you feel

As with grief, many people find it hard to believe in the early days that they won’t always feel the pain that they might do just after a loss. Feelings may change from day to day, and often without apparent reason. Sadness, hysteria, calm, yearning, anger, fear and relief are all emotions in most types of loss and they can fluctuate wildly. By allowing ourselves to sit in these emotions for a while, rather than denying them, we can start to recognise how they’re fluid and changeable. In the bigger picture, know that everything is temporary, the good stuff as well as the bad. This pandemic won’t last forever. 

David Kessler (who worked alongside Kubler-Ross), recently added a sixth stage to the loss curve, that of finding meaning. Amidst the pain, despair, loss, disbelief, this is a huge moment of pause in all our lives. It’s near impossible not to be changed by it in any way. But there is meaning to be made from reflecting on how we live our lives, assessing what is and isn’t important, and maybe right now, we need that little bit of hope to cling on to.  

About Julia

Julia Sinclair-Brown is an experienced career and life coach. After a very difficult period of her life when she suffered close family bereavements, she now focuses much of her work on supporting others who have faced the loss of a loved one. She holds the notion that we never ‘get over’ a deep loss but can instead accept that we will be changed by it. In time, we can learn to find meaning and a way forward in our lives again.

Find out more about Julia’s work at www.evolvida.co.uk or get in touch on 07951 581 458. Since the Covid-19 crisis, she has also started a Facebook Group Kinship In Grief to support others with grief and loss of normalcy during this time.

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