By Lindsay Simon, Special to Moonshine
The U.S. surpassed 100,000 deaths from COVID-19 on May 28, and whether you know someone who died or not, everyone is experiencing losses right now. Regardless of race, gender, nationality, or socioeconomic status, we are grieving together.
Some are experiencing more severe losses, but overall the current circumstances in the world are impacting everyone in some way. I want to address the emotional impact that the secondary losses might be having on you.
Primary losses due to the coronavirus might be the death of a loved one due to the virus. Secondary losses can include financial loss, lack of feeling purpose and meaning due to loss of work, sadness over other people’s losses, sadness due to isolation from friends and loved ones, and disappointment or sadness over canceled events, experiences, and vacations. An example of secondary loss is someone not being able to see their new grandchild in person, or not being able to visit a loved one who is sick in the hospital due to the travel bans, social distancing, and stay-at-home directives. In light of these circumstances, it is normal to have a variety of difficult emotions right now. By using the right tools, we can manage these emotional states a little better.
Grief is a natural response to loss. It is the emotional suffering you experience when you have a loss, any loss. Typically, grief is talked about in relation to losing a loved one, but people experience grief for any loss, small or big.
According to the well known Kubler-Ross Model, the stages of grief are: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.
I make sure my clients know that this is an outdated model and not accurate for what the grief experience is known to be through research, but it provides a decent framework. These stages are not linear nor are they predictable. I like to tell my clients that the only thing predictable about grief is that it is unpredictable. That means the norm is for you to oscillate between various emotions, many of which aren’t in this model, and often at seemingly random places and times or sometimes at much more predictable places and times.
Generally speaking, the mourning process starts with the shock (aka denial) stage, then goes through lots of different emotions (including anger, sadness, regret, fear, despair, doubt, hopelessness, or longing), and then ends with acceptance — but at any time can go back to those previous emotions. The hope builds over time, and through processing emotions, you can reach and stay in acceptance for longer periods of time.
The process of moving through the grief stages toward acceptance is called mourning. During therapy, I assist my clients in moving through these stages.
The Four Tasks of Mourning, according to psychologist J. William Worden:
- Accept the reality of the loss.
- Work through the pain of grief (enduring waves of sorrow, anger, despair, the what-ifs).
- Adjust to an environment in which the deceased is missing (creating a new life and rituals without them — this is especially important during holidays, anniversaries, and birthdays)
- Emotionally relocate the deceased and move on with life (living life without the loss of this person impairing your life, continuing to love this person and remain connected through our memories and recollections while simultaneously being able to invest in your current life)
In regards to secondary losses (remember, not direct losses from death or sickness due to the coronavirus, which would fit into its own process, but secondary losses due to staying at home) in the current coronavirus pandemic, you can work to:
First, accept that there is a global pandemic that is causing job losses, school closures, social losses, celebration losses, and financial losses.
Write down your personal secondary losses.
Second, allow yourself to feel the waves of sorrow and grief. Whatever emotions come up, practice identifying and labeling without judgment. It is important to know that no emotion lasts forever and they are all temporary. If you avoid, ignore, or suppress an emotion, it will likely show up in another way at some point — through sleep problems, snapping at your partner, depression, or maybe anxiety, and will ultimately elongate the grieving process. Instead, practice feeling, accepting, and riding the wave of that emotion until it passes, knowing that it will pass. Another wave will hit at another time, but this wave will pass and over time the waves become further apart and less severe. During this stage, talking about your feelings to your support system (for example, a therapist) or journaling can help you identify and process some of these feelings.
Additional coping skills might be: allowing yourself to cry, painting, drawing, going for a walk, cuddling or playing with a pet, meditating, participating in mindfulness activities, writing in a gratitude journal, praying, or hugging a loved one.
Write down the difficult feelings you have experienced due to your losses, then brainstorm coping skills you can use to help you tolerate and handle these difficult emotions.
Third, adjust to the new normal. Create structure and routines that fit your new home life. That means creating a structured morning and bedtime routine. You might not be in control of what is going on in the world outside, but you can take control of creating structure in your home. Create a consistent bedtime, wake time, exercise routine, self-care time, and work schedule. Make sure to schedule virtual social time. Create consistency within your new normal, a schedule which will help manage stress and move you through the mourning process.
Lastly, you will enter a phase where you’re ready to move on with life. This is when you have fully accepted the new normal. At this stage you are no longer annoyed or frustrated or sad about the losses, they just are what they are and you have moved forward with life without them bothering you. I would be surprised if anyone is here yet; this stage might not be achieved until the social distancing bans are lifted.