Everyone experiences grief. At some point in everyone’s life, there will be at least one moment where we experience grief and loss. How we cope with it is personal and non-linear. Grief can manifest in many different behaviors and emotions ranging from anger to detachment. Everyone grieves differently, but there are commonalities in the stages of grief. We go through denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Not everyone, however, will experience all of them and in that same order. You can begin coping in the anger or bargaining stage, and may remain in one stage longer than the others. This is acceptable because there’s no time limit or schedule that we must follow when coping with grief and loss.
Within the scope of the pandemic, grief has been an area of focus for many researchers. Comparisons were taken before and after the pandemic on whether or not grief is prolonged and more severe. Grief researchers surveyed 1600 bereaved adults who had experienced loss either before or during the pandemic. They found that there were no significant differences in grief levels, but those with the most recent losses reported the highest levels of grief. What the data
didn’t tell us, however, is how different factors can contribute to grief reactions. Factors such as social isolation, the unexpectedness of the death, religious restrictions, the inability of survivors to make sense of the loss, and a lack of institutional and informational support for families all play a role in how individuals grieve. Social isolation protocols limit both available social support and meaningful engagement of family members in end-of-life care. Places of worship are shuttered during the pandemic, marginalized communities are disproportionally represented in mortality statistics, and protocols for family engagement are restricted by care facilities and hospitals seeking to protect from contagion (Eisma & Tamminga, 2020). Therefore, the psychological toll of grief seems to be more severe in the context of death resulting from the pandemic.
The pandemic has disproportionately affected older adults in many ways. They’re impacted not only through a greater risk of illness and death, but also by intensifying the underlying distress related to aging and mortality. Many are grieving the loss of independence, social connectedness, financial security, and access to basic necessities (Ishikawa, 2020). In an outpatient psychiatry clinic, older patients express their fears about mortality, loneliness, and untreated chronic pain. And because surgery isn’t an option for many, the only help they could turn to is mental health care. It’s important for facilities to offer support and social connectedness while also assessing the risks. Mindfulness and exercise have also been found to help maintain physical health and boosting moods.
The pandemic isn’t the only natural disaster to cause severe grief and loss. After a tsunami hit Sri Lanka in 2004, 38 survivors were interviewed in-depth to assess how they responded and coped with their grief. Because most natural disasters occur in countries that have fewer resources to respond to disaster, most survivors have to rely on their own coping resources and draw from what support remains within the family, social networks, and the community to manage and deal with their losses and emotional distress. The survivors emphasized the importance of extended supportive networks, religious faith and practices, and cultural traditions in facilitating recovery and sustaining emotional well-being. Government and external aid responses that promoted these were particularly valued by participants. These findings suggest that long-term mental health care following a disaster should be promoted through the community and government programs
(Ekanayake et al., 2013).
While there are many ways to cope, there seem to be common themes within these methods. The two biggest being 1) having strong social support from either family, friends, or the community and 2) participating in spiritual or cultural customs and traditions. It’s best to surround yourself with people who care about you and to communicate how you’re feeling with them. Also, to be able to come to terms with mortality through spiritual practice can help us find closure and peace. It can help remind us that our loved ones are always with us.
Ishikawa, R. Z. (2020). I may never see the ocean again: Loss and grief among older adults
during the COVID-19 pandemic. Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy,12(S1), S85-S86. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/tra0000695