COVID 19 PROMPTS GRIEF IN MORE SUBTLE WAYS
When we think of grief, we usually think of mourning the death of a loved one, family member, close friend, or perhaps charismatic and important leader (JFK, Martin Luther King, FDR, Nelson Mandela). We have rituals, shared experiences, and psychological guidelines to help us with such grief: funerals, condolence calls/visits, support groups, etc. (On Death and Dying, Elizabeth Kubler Ross). The current circumstances mean having funerals with only the most limited of inner circle attending.
Grief comes in less dramatic forms and “smaller packages” too. The COVID pandemic has prompted just such grief. ( nytimes.com/2020/03/23/well/family/coronavirus-grief-loss.html ; Washington’s Recovery Help Line; and a thank you to RS in Oakland, a retired and much-trusted colleague who suggested this blog, as did Jeanette our blog manager). With a bit of thought, it’s rather apparent when we face the loss of a job, or a partial, but significant loss of income. Or the introduction of increased economic insecurity from the threat of such a loss, even if the threat doesn’t materialize immediately.
But, sheltering at home and social distancing has brought about other losses: loss of genuine and physical contact with family members and friends as we take steps to protect the more vulnerable among us, as well as ourselves. Some of the more affected clients in my practice are people who are single and living alone; they are without a spouse or intimate partner with whom to share their increased hours at home, and without a hopefully emotionally safe person with whom to share their difficult feelings during this time in ongoing conversations. Elders don’t get to see, and hug, their grandchildren who live nearby, or their children perhaps. And, vice versa, the younger generation is missing out on the warmth and affection from grandma and grandpa. The simple, but essential, experience of human touch is missing for many people.
What about all the routines and structures we have in our lives? Going to work, which also has considerable social interaction, as well as mental stimulation for many of us. Exercise routines that get us out of the house, often at workout facilities with more interaction; solo exercise in the neighborhood isn’t the same. Grocery shopping is now an extended and much more complicated process, often with supplies lacking like paper products. Eating out is no longer an option, with its pleasures and social interaction as well; while cooking at home may save money, and mean healthier choices perhaps, it also gets to be a daily grind with little relief. Entertainment is limited to home options, and even the wealth of viewing options nowadays gets stale, when movies, sporting events, plays, concerts, and simple leisure in a local park are no longer an option. Predictability, which is comforting, is lost.
We realize that such holes in our lives create sadness, feelings of loss, irritation, and helplessness or depression perhaps. This is grief, in its perhaps more subtle forms. How to respond?
- Acknowledge your grief, feelings of loss and sadness, as well as irritability. Trying to deny and minimize will likely only serve to intensify the feelings and delay their eventual emergence.
- Ask yourself, how do you want to be your own self in a year. What kind of resilience do you hope to develop? What “bad habits” can you improve upon and replace? What do you hope to learn about yourself and others?
- Help others, whether that be elders, children, people with disabilities who are profoundly impacted, or friends and family members.
- Be creative about socializing. Try Face Time, Zoom or video calling of some sort. How about a virtual birthday party, or cocktail hour, or religious ceremony. Go for a walk with a friend, while still maintaining social distance with a mask.
- Limit your media exposure, to contain anxiety/fear and to be sure you’re getting reliable information.
- Maintain, or even upgrade, your physical exercise regimen with more frequent and longer walks, bike rides, perhaps jogging, or workouts in the house. Physical activity strengthens your immune system of course, a very desirable strategy in this time of illness, but it also is a powerful antidote to anxiety, depression, and emotional turmoil.
- Stay in the present, rather than “future casting” about scary scenarios. Enjoy small pleasures: a good book, listening to music, preparing a special meal, making use of your patio, balcony, or backyard.
- Make family time more creative: board games with the kids, shared TV watching, regular meals together, an ongoing card tournament. One family began watching a series of shows nightly suggested by their adolescent daughter, which gave the parents more insight into their daughter’s world, and created opportunity for much conversation. Engage more in that hobby you dabble in intermittently, but with more dedication now, both for relaxation and skill development perhaps.
- Respect how each person may grieve, each in their own way. Some may seek information about the virus, how it operates and how it is threatening. Some may seek escapism and relief. Some may socialize all the more, or less. Make efforts to meet each other and connect in each person’s ways of coping, rather than insisting that other people respond the way you do.
Finally, of course, seek counseling and therapy. Most therapists are available for tele-health help, whether that be voice or video calls. Our IPN members are very skilled in helping with the various forms that grief may take, dramatic and less so.
Alan M. Solomon, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist in private practice in Torrance, CA. A member of the Independent Psychotherapy Network, he can be reached at 310 539-2772, or firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright 2020 by Alan M. Solomon, Ph.D.