How to deal with grief and loss during these difficult times of pandemic

By Dr. Madhusudan Singh Solanki in Mental Health And Behavioural Sciences

May 17 , 2021 | 7 min read


For the past few weeks news, phone calls and messages are all full of loss, deaths, simmering hopelessness, helplessness and despair. There is hardly anyone untouched by the dark cloud of loss and grief these days.The second wave of the pandemic has emotionally drained our souls due to sudden demise of loved ones. The protocols & safety measures designed to perform last rites of a loved one, to contain the spread of the disease, has also resulted in despair. Proper funerals and congregations of people to honour the departed soul, the absence of human proximity and connectedness and comfort that one needs at the time of grief and the isolation due to other family members being covid positive have made grieving even more painful. A solitary process deprived of the ingrained noble human attempts  to share the sorrow and facilitate it, add to that  almost everyone is compromised in one way or the other and hence people need support themselves much more than they can provide.

Death or loss of loved one is never easy to deal with and there is no “one right way to grieve”, it’s a process which has to happen and we have to facilitate that as much as we can.

Demise of someone who is really close to you often results in shock, denial, numbness, anger, low mood, guilt and other intense emotions like severe yearning, longing and profound thoughts and memories. These appear in varying intensities and at different stages of grief and also vary depending upon the relationship dynamics a person shared with the departed soul and also influenced by the manner of death. The process of grief has been classically described by Psychiatrist Dr Elisabeth Kubler Ross as consisting of stages of denial-anger-bargaining-depression and acceptance. These emotions and behaviours gradually resolve over a period of time, the newer reality of living without the lost soul gets soaked in, absorbed, accepted  and  grief becomes a part of life in such a way that it no longer holds one back in life. But grief is grief, it is complex and sometimes we just don’t know how to comfort the other person or ourselves when grief befalls upon us. We can have some solace in the fact that most of us have an inherent tendency to empathize and support and a desire to comfort the grieving person and to reduce their pain. Hence howsoever tough or difficult the times are, we can still help ourselves and others. Shared below are few thoughts that can help us deal with this enormous crisis and the consequent loss of precious lives.

  1. Talking about it - This is perhaps the single most important thing that can ease the pain and facilitate the process of grieving. Give the person a chance to talk about it and try to provide a patient with emphatic listening. You should be caring and emphatic in your approach so that the person feels safe to share and can open up. If you are grieving then do talk about it with your family or friends. Talks can include anything from just sitting in silence to related or unrelated talks, mundane to specific talks often entwined and enmeshed with a central theme that keeps recurring and honours the memory of departed soul like stories, time spent together, his or her uniqueness, contribution, love, care, pain, loss, suffering and death. Although personal presence matters a lot as most of the support and comfort comes from the non-verbal domain of presence, being there, caring attitude of the person, but in covid times if that’s not feasible then video and audio calls could be used frequently and creative use of various applications which encourage communication through innovative methods can also help in conveying the feeling of “being there” thereby reducing the isolation.
  2. Recognize your emotions, acknowledge and validate them - It is ok to feel emotions and feelings like numbness, hopelessness, anger, frustration, guilt and despair when one is grieving. Talk about how you are feeling, try to acknowledge and validate your feelings and emotions, and if you are comforting someone, let him/her know that it is normal and ok to feel these emotions when going through such a situation.
  3. Grief corner exercise - If you feel that the emotions, feelings and thoughts are overwhelming and all consuming and they are incapacitating you the whole day, sometimes it helps to keep a separate place and time especially to grieve and rest of the time you can try focussing on other things.
  4. Talking to people who have been through similar experiences - Doing this can lower the pain by sharing common emotions and sorrows and it also coveys that you are not alone in this. It creates a sense of togetherness in the shared pain and helps to comfort and heal.
  5. Avoid negative news - Social media shares, instead watch something that takes you away from covid related news.
  6. Try to keep a routine - Including regular sleep and wake up time that helps to bring back the sense of control which is often lost when one faces sudden loss and grief.
  7. Try to remain connected - To your deeply held personal beliefs, practices, hobbies and tasks which might have provided you with meaning and a sense of belonging in the world. In other words try to remain connected with all that which has kept you anchored to your life so far.
  8. Don’t let guilt crush you - Guilt or survivor guilt is a very common emotion one feels after the death of a loved one, it can be guilt in the form of what could have been done differently, or the guilt of the last fight you have had, the guilt of not being able to say a proper good bye, the guilt of not spending enough time with the person when he or she was alive etc.  It is important to recognize guilt and to understand that this one particular emotion is often the biggest obstacle in the successful resolution of the process of grief. Understand it is normal to feel guilt when one is grieving, but it should not remain the only and primary emotion guiding your behaviour when you move on in life. Sometimes one may feel guilty about how can I ever be joyful when someone close to me has died, if this is a prominent thought holding you back, then it is sometimes useful to focus on how the person would have wanted you to live, keeping this perspective in mind can help reduce the sense of guilt and heal yourself when you start to live your life again by giving yourself a chance to have contentment and joy in life.
  9. Connect to your spiritual side - Pray if you have been praying and have the courage to accept what you cannot change and what you have no control over like death and this pandemic. To accept the reality of the situation demands courage and resilience.  As per psychiatrist Dr M Kathy Shear who has worked extensively on complicated grief, “it is important to find ways to restore your well being and to cope with the pandemic, which includes 1. Acting in ways that are consistent with important personal values or deeply held interests, 2. Feeling competent to face and meet important challenges in life and 3. Having a sense of belonging and mattering in world.”
  10. Seek help - While emotions and feelings like self blame, guilt, anger or shame are normal up to an extent when one is grieving but do keep in mind that they should not keep on lingering as the prominent emotions indefinitely as they hamper your grieving process, healing and return to wellbeing. Also note some important signs of grief process becoming complicated are- remaining absorbed by grief for a very long time resulting in all other domains of life getting severely affected, extreme social withdrawal, avoiding reminders of loss, or development of symptoms like suicidal thoughts, hallucinations and impaired self care or increased use of substance like alcohol or drugs. If you notice these symptoms in yourself or in someone close to you, take professional help or encourage the person to talk to a mental health care professional. Grief is unfortunate, painful and complex but common and we all have to go through it sooner or later and this sad, dark, excruciating reality of human existence can be somehow navigated guided by the light of human spirit, endurance and fortitude often helped by the noble human endeavours of commiseration and sharing of sorrow.

 Still grief is grief, there is no working formula to deal with it, no proven ways to bring a closure, it recedes and resurfaces and one continues to learn to live with it for whole life. I hope some of these ideas may help you or may be some of your own ideas and cultural practices provide you the much needed strength and fortitude to cope with it. Love, prayers and blessings.