Grief and Loss

  • Stay connected while social distancing
  • Consider creative ways to honor your deceased loved one
  • Maintain self-care and pleasurable activities

Content provided by Chassi Jensen, MSW, who has received training in Complicated Grief Treatment.

Grief is an incredibly difficult experience even in the best of times. As our nation focuses on social distancing efforts to decrease the impact of COVID-19, new challenges arise for the bereaved.

What is grief?

The Center for Complicated Grief at Columbia University defines grief as “a person’s response to loss, entailing emotions, thoughts and behaviors as well as physiological changes.”

There is no “right way” to grieve. People experience and express grief in many different ways. Often individuals fluctuate between common responses of grief, including sadness, guilt, anger, bargaining, denial or disbelief, loneliness, and difficulty concentrating. When grieving, individuals experience an intense longing for their deceased loved one. While painful, grief is an important and natural process that enables us to reflect on the impact of the loss and begin to discover new meaning in life.

How COVID-19 impacts grief

Often those who are grieving benefit from spending time with close family and friends, finding ways to honor their deceased loved one, and engaging in activities that distract them from their grief. The comfort, help, and presence of loved ones is invaluable in supporting individuals after a loss. Social distancing, while necessary for health and safety, may make this challenging for the bereaved. Those who are grieving may suffer from increased loneliness and social isolation at this time. They may also experience travel issues that make it difficult to say goodbye to their loved one or to participate in grief-related rituals and ceremonies.

Collective grief and loss

In addition to those suffering from the grief of a loved one’s illness or death, many are experiencing emotional responses of grief and loss related to aspects of life that have changed because of COVID-19. Loss of expectations, a sense of safety, jobs, routines, hobbies, social supports, and more have brought up painful emotions during this difficult time. While this type of loss is different than bereavement, many of the suggestions for coping with grief below can also be great tools in managing these painful feelings.

Coping with grief during COVID-19

For those who are currently experiencing grief and loss, here are some suggestions for coping in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis:

  • Continue to stay connected with others: Try to utilize virtual communication in order to stay in contact with close supports.
  • Consider creative ways to honor and remember your deceased loved one: Some examples include taking time to reflect, journal, look through photos, or share about the loved one with others.
  • Prioritize self-care activities: It often helps people to focus on maintaining healthy sleep, exercise, and diet.
  • Incorporate pleasurable activities: While the nation’s stay at home orders may limit access to pleasurable activities, there are still options for activities that can help individuals take a break from the painful emotions of grief to experience pleasure and relief. Examples such as taking a walk, joining a virtual game night, gardening, and completing art projects are great ways to start.
  • Consider reaching out to professional help: Psychotherapy and psychiatry services can be valuable resources for getting through difficult times.

For many, COVID-19 has been a particularly challenging and uncertain time. Those experiencing grief at this time have additional challenges for coping. Below are some additional resources for treatment and support.