Grief During Covid19

grief suupport Mar 31, 2022
Being a better friend

RECORDING MY SORROWS, HOPING FOR JOY

By David & Crystal Knapp

Learning how to cope with a loss in our lives often begins when we are kids. Maybe it is the loss of a favorite toy, or perhaps the loss of one’s first soccer or t-ball game. Many times the instructions or examples indicate that we should simply “shake it off” and move on like nothing happened. While many people move through their childhood with no major losses due to death, there are those who experience much tragedy growing up. Many in our culture today do not know how to grieve well.

Following a talk I gave on the grieving process a lady sitting on the aisle seat in the very back row handed me a note as I made my way to the back of the auditorium. Upon opening it read, “Thank you for giving me permission to grieve the loss of my precious dog.  My friends say I should not cry over a pet.”  On another occasion a man approached me sheepishly after the line of people wanting to talk had dispersed and said, “I really want to grieve well, but I don’t know how to.  I don’t know if I am doing it right or not.”

My first wife died following seven years of dealing with cancer. I didn’t know a human could hurt that deeply. (death of a spouse)  Working through how to grief often meant that I realized that I had believed some of the many myths that often accompany our idea of grieving. That list includes:

Grief is a BAD thing

Grieving deeply is a sign of weakness

Grieving shows a lack of trust in God

Grieving is a sin

Grieving is an event not a process

Grief shown in public implies one is not doing well

Grief always follows a predictable path, deviations show big trouble

Grieving is seen only in the spiritually immature or emotionally weak

Grievers get the most help from comforters when they help them “get over it”

Grievers’ pain can be made worse by something you say wrong.

The process of grieving well is usually not the first priority that comes to mind when someone experiences a major loss. Commonly the effort is to make the pain stop. And so it is with many would be comforters. The efforts from friends can often have the motive to help get over it and therefore avoid the topic of their loss altogether.  The better route would be to help guide them through the process.

The rise of the Covid19 pandemic has exploded the topic of grief to a new level in our world. At this writing the CDC reports that there has been 974,277 deaths in the United States since the pandemic began. Most of these deaths, we presume, came in addition to the amount of losses of life to other causes that would have happened anyway. Much of our population struggles to deal with the direct and indirect losses this virus has forced upon us with little time or even thought about how to grieve those losses well.

With the volume of grievers emerging today the number of those that require professional help has increased proportionately. Less than 4% of the grieving population requires long term help dealing with life, thoughts and emotions. However, with this number rising a report in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), the catalog of psychological conditions widely used by clinicians to diagnose patients is the standard classification of mental disorders, announced the new disorder Prolonged Grief Disorder.

I received a phone call a few years back from a man who works with the city rescue mission in his town.  The procedure in his community for handling 911 calls regarding indigent people by the police was to call him to come get them instead of sending a squad car out to pick them up. He and his wife had been doing this for ten years.  He contacted Grief Relief Ministries to get some instructions on how to better help those he was picking up.  He shared that his observation concluded that over 50% of the homeless he dealt with descended into life on the street as a result of a major loss from which they were unable to recover. 

The far-reaching effects of Covid19 on our way of living and experiences require that we be more aware of how to grieve well from all the things, big and small, that we have lost due to its impact. Understanding grief during Covid19 is vital these days.  The levels of loss have reached into our lives very deeply from lost graduation services to loss of close relatives. Never before has our generation had to deal with so many aspects of life that loss has dominated. Learning to grieve well behooves us.  

Part of the problem with our cultural ignorance about the mourning process is often the rest of us.  We are  those would be comforters who don’t always know how to guide a griever through the process.  Some helpful points to keep in mind to correct that would include:

Comments of comfort should not be geared to “fix” the problem of grief for the bereaved.

Grief is the acknowledgement of loss emotionally. It is mostly a heart problem, not a mind challenge.

Mourners are sensitive to unsupportive comments that seem to minimize their grief.

Avoiding grievers socially, or avoiding the topic of their loss, stifles their grieving process.

Words of comfort need to revolve around the feelings of the bereaved, not the discomfort of the supporter.

The grieving are not looking for logic statements of being told what to do. What they need is a listening ear.

Comfort for the grieving needs to be more directed to their pain than the one or thing they have lost.

Theological lectures are seldom of much relief for the pain of new grief.

Comments that imply a judgmental nature are of no comfort to the bereaved.

Beware of time in words of comfort. Avoid time limits and be sensitive to timing for comments.

Sympathy for the griever by recognizing their present pain has more value than attempts to empathize by comparing to your past losses.

Knowing the right thing to say is only half of the responsibility of being a supportive emotional care giver. The other half revolves around the doing.

Many ‘would be’ comforters have asked me the “$64,000 question; “How long should my friend grieve their loss?”  That can be a difficult question to answer as there are a lot of variables that go into an individual’s bereavement. Even leading psychiatrists disagree on setting a time limit on the grieving process. The generalized guesses can range from 6 months to two years depending on the circumstances. The fact remains that a major loss experience simply becomes a part of who you are. Learning to live again is the challenge. Many of the variables that can affect one’s grief timeframe include:

 Grief is determined by the definition of the relationship

 Grief can be affected by one’s world view

 Grief may be experienced differently based on personality and gender

 Grief is expressed differently by folks of different maturity levels

 Grief will be affected by the support team available to the bereaved

 Grief is often determined by the culture of the bereaved

 Grief symptoms can be affected by the way the death occurred.

 Grief will be experienced differently by varying age groups

Committing to helping a friend or loved on who has experienced a major loss can be time consuming.  It often calls for participation in their journey to healing and joy. A detailed list of suggestions on being a help to the bereaved would be:

Grievers appreciate it when leaders and friends reach out to them first

 Grievers need you to acknowledge their pain

 Grievers want you to remember their loved one who died

 Grievers may need instruction in the grieving process

 Grievers will appreciate more than a “hit and run” response from you

 Grievers’ needs may include physical help and guidance in decisions

 Grievers appreciate your presence at the time of their loss

 Grievers may need help with major decision during the first week

 Grievers need you to contact them at 3 weeks when all others leave

 Grievers need a listening ear at the 3-month stage to help process

 Grievers can often use help analyzing their grief process at 6 months

 Grievers will appreciate invitations to be back in social circles by 9 months

 Grievers often appreciate a call or visit on important anniversaries the first

year

 Grievers need support during “first” holidays

 Grievers want support on the anniversary of the death of their loved one.

For those who are grieving, one of the first steps towards grieving well and restored joy would be to simply acknowledge that you are grieving and it is okay to do so. In efforts to understand the grieving process many have referred to the five stages of grief, however, I have found that not everyone experiences those as “stages” in any order.  I prefer to describe it as emotional phases that are possible, such as; Guilt/ ‘if only’, Denial, Anger/blame, Bargaining, Depression/sadness, Acceptance/life goes on, and Loneliness/emptiness.

Since grief is a very personal experience and no one goes through it exactly the same as any one else, it is beneficial to be able to express YOUR journey from sorrow to joy. This may come by you becoming a student of the mourning process so you can understand where your experiences fit in. Realize that “time” is your friend. Don’t view uncontrolled waves of emotion as setbacks but progress. You are not going crazy.

I’ve often likened the grieving process to a cut on my arm.  When my physical body gets hurt, I will do what it takes to take care of it, protect it from infection and give it time to heal.  Grief is a broken heart caused by death or loss that needs attention as well.

You will find release through expression. Again, this may vary from person to person. Some express their grief through memories both verbal and physical. Others express well to others who have had similar experiences of loss. Some prefer confiding in a respected leader or clergy. Many, on the other hand find steady release and a return to joy in their life by recording their sorrows in some way.  Those who can, put together letters of expression that they never send while others actually make their written expressions known. To a large number of mourners, a personal, written expression affords great release from pain and a return to joy.  This can be accomplished with a grief journal of your choice, preferrable one that will guide you through the grieving process.

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