It’s been more than a year since this unprecedented pandemic and the mortalities seem to be forever mounting. The estimation of deaths is under calculated or under-reported. And while we are grappling with the statistics of infection, survival, mortality, and morbidity there is an ever-increasing number of those in grief over the loss of a loved one.
I read this quote somewhere “Somethings cannot be fixed; they can only be carried”. That’s what grief feels like when you lose someone you love.
Loss and grief are old human experiences. But it just feels very different this time. The last grief support group that I was part of had not just those who were struggling with the pain of a personal loss but also those who were trying to support someone they care about during a difficult phase. And it got us all thinking how this period is so challenging in terms of grief recovery and support.
Well firstly it’s the sheer number of lives being lost.
Secondly, in most cases, it’s either the suddenness of the event or the inability to spend some last moments together with those moving on in their journeys that are stripping us of our final goodbyes.
Additionally, there is a lack of any community space or community support where one gets to express their grief due to the restrictions. No gatherings, low funeral attendance, no post-funeral rituals. Losses are being experienced in quick succession. Stories of families where more than one member has succumbed to the virus are no longer exceptional.
And most importantly, the absence of human touch as a source of comfort to those grieving.
We may have come up with creative virtual platforms to express our solidarity with those bereaved, but it doesn’t compare to the nonverbal but very powerful human expression of holding and hugging for comfort.
To top all this the collective grief that one is witnessing in the environment is enough to exhaust all your emotions / coping skills leaving you with a feeling of being too unfeeling or too detached.
Grieving is not linear. We have all at some point read or heard about the various phases of grief in the popular 1969 Kubler Ross model – Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance. Since then, there have been newer models and theories explaining the same. You don’t need to be an expert to be able to support someone through their grief. You can do so by understanding key points.
- Grief recovery is not a linear journey.
- Someone going to a previous stage of grief recovery rather than moving forward is not abnormal.
- There is no fixed time limit to grieving.
- There is no hierarchy to experiencing a loss – the pain of a parent losing a child or a child losing a parent is not in any order.
- Grief is not comparable.
- There are no perfectly suitable words to say to someone who has just lost a loved one – and cliches of your personal experience or general philosophies about life are not helpful. The easiest thing you can express is how sorry you are.
- Everyone grieves differently. There is no right format to express grief. Someone crying or wailing is not experiencing a bigger pain than someone quietly going through life after loss.
- Grief can cause physical, emotional, cognitive, and behavioural symptoms – making it difficult at times to understand the correlation.
So how do you support someone especially in the COVID crisis?
- Listen Actively – look for cues of tone, body language, appearance and not just the words.
- Help them feel accepted and normalise their expression without laying any conditions of how they should be expressing.
- Support them in ways beyond just the emotional. Some people may need practical support on things like legal, financial, or medical aid. Find agencies and organisations that can help with the same.
- Don’t take their responses or reactions personally. If you find yourself at the receiving end of their outburst, empathise that it’s their pain and not a personal attack on you.
- Get professional support and normalise seeking professional help in these challenging times.
- Importantly while supporting those who have experienced a personal loss, continue to be mindful of your own emotions and emotional needs before it takes a toll on you. Self-care still needs to be a priority.
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