Loss and Bereavement
One of the consequences of the pandemic is that many of us have experienced loss. The death of a loved one is usually the most profound of all sorrows. It throws every aspect of our lives out of balance. The grief that comes with such a loss is intense and multi-faceted, affecting our emotions and our lives. Grief is preoccupying and exhausting. It is a mixture of raw feelings such as anger, sorrow, longing, fear and regret. Symptoms of tension, sleeplessness, long periods of wakefulness, feeling lethargic and loss of appetite are common. The closer we are to the person who died or left us the more pain the loss creates. The grieving process during lockdown has become more complicated for many as funerals, family gatherings and face to face support from friends and family has been minimal or non-existent.
Many Frontline medical staff will have experienced multiple deaths of patients and colleagues too and the impact of this seemingly unending trauma can be devastating and may take months to recover from.
Other forms of loss which many people may be experiencing during these last few months are:
- loss of health
- loss of employment
- loss of financial security
- loss of safety
- loss after miscarriage
- loss after divorce/separation
- loss of friendship
- loss of meaning in life
- loss of control and structure
Stages of mourning
The six stages of grief and mourning, as identified by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, the regarded expert on death and dying and the author of many books on this subject are:
- Denial, shock and disbelief
- Anger - someone we love is no longer here
- Bargaining - the what "ifs", regrets and guilt feelings
- Overwhelming sadness, tiredness and exhaustion
- Acceptance of the reality of the loss. This is extremely painful and does not mean that we are over the grief
- Creating meaning out of loss and transforming it into something fulfilling
These stages of mourning do not necessarily occur in any specific order. Grieving is a personal process that has no time limit and there is no "right" way to do it.
Avoidance of the grieving process
Many people believe that they need to bury their grief or mask it with alcohol, recreational drugs, over-working or keeping busy. They believe that they need to "man up" and adopt a stiff upper lip. Other ways that we have a tendency to distract from our grief is to "fall in love", move house or country or change jobs. Ultimately this can complicate the grieving process and trigger depression, anxiety or other mental health issues or physical ailments. When we do this our grief does not go away but re-emerges later in our lives which usually makes the grieving process more complicated.
Guilt is a common and normal feeling in the grieving process. Most grievers have some level of guilt associated with their loss. People often wish that they could have done things differently following the death of a loved one. Thoughts such as "why did I do or say that?" or "if only I had done or said that" the outcome could have been different. It is important to acknowledge our guilt feelings and find someone we can trust to explore these feelings. If we keep our guilt inside us it can grow and fester inside us and cause many more difficulties for the future.
Steps to support yourself during the grieving process
- Eat a healthy diet
- Rest often even if you have difficulties in sleeping
- Reach out to others to talk about your loss
- Take daily gentle exercise
- Ideally commit to setting aside 15 minutes to one hour daily to do grief work
- Allow yourself to feel and express your emotions whether it be sadness, anger, fear or loneliness
- Write down these feelings in a journal or write letters but do not send them
- Avoid over-eating, drinking alcohol, taking recreational drugs and over-working
- Write daily affirmations to yourself of positivity and support. For example "I am wanted and loveable" or "I will get through this pain in my life"
- Listening to Ted talks on YouTube or other uplifting talks can be helpful
- Reading or writing poetry or prose
- Learn to meditate or learn to relax your body through Mindfulness, yoga or pilates
- Learn to forgive yourself and others
- Reach out for professional support if your support systems are not strong enough
Grieving is detailed and meticulous work and it is not for the faint hearted as it requires full commitment to our own growth process. It is a pathway to health and serenity and it is the work of the soul. If we continue with steadfastness, with our own process of mourning we can become clearer with our own inner selves and transform our pain into other states of being such as love, transparency, spontaneity and joy to name but a few.
Often but not always we can create meanging out of loss such as mounting a campaign to make life better for others learning to live nobly and compassionately or finding religious or spiritual beliefs to give meaning to our lives.
"There is no growth without pain and conflict and no loss that cannot lead to gain." (Lily Pincus)