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Lockdown: coping with grief

When someone dies, our usual ways of coping and moving on are built around getting together with loved ones. During social distancing, we may have to adjust to new ways of dealing with grief.

Funeral attendance is being limited to small numbers of close family. For many people, this means not getting a chance to say goodbye. For those who can attend, it might be upsetting to see a small turnout, knowing their loved one isn’t getting the send-off they deserved.

Grieving from a distance

Even when you’re not able to get together physically, you can still mark the loss.

  • If possible, attend a live stream of the funeral. Many funerals are being filmed and streamed so that mourners can watch them safely from home.
  • Plan a memorial service. We don’t know when or how things will change but, at some point, we’ll be able to meet up again. Planning a service or celebration in the future can help you move forward in the present.
  • Write down some memories of the person who has died. This can help you acknowledge the loss and reflect on what the person meant to you.
  • Pick up the phone or arrange a video chat. You and your loved ones can share memories and offer each other support.
  • Look for the positives. After some time has passed, you may find it easier to step back and see if anything positive has come out of the situation. Perhaps you’re connecting with friends and family in a different way or seeing how people can come together under difficult circumstances [1].
How am I supposed to feel?

Right now, it can be hard to know what’s normal. There’s no set path that you’re supposed to follow after a death, but it can be comforting to know the types of things people often go through.

Rather than being sad all the time, people often go back and forth between grieving and getting on with things. You might find yourself switching between moments when you feel very sad, and moments when you feel relatively normal [2].

Often, we push away difficult thoughts and feelings. We might try to convince ourselves everything is OK, even when it’s not. Sometimes, we use drugs or alcohol to try and change the way we feel. Whatever we do to push our feelings away, they will always find a way back in. It won’t always be easy, but it’s best just to let your feelings come and go – that’s how you process them and move forward [1].

Supporting each other as a couple

If you’re in a relationship, you and your partner can support each other by sharing the grieving process. At the very least, talking to each other about how you’re feeling can make it easier for both of you to cope [3].

Under normal circumstances, this might mean going to the funeral together or visiting a memorial site, but you can still find rituals to share from home – like lighting a candle or listening to a special piece of music. These shared experiences can help you both adjust to the loss [4]. Even if you don’t live together, you could still meet up online and do something together.

One thing to bear in mind, if you’re in a mixed sex couple, is that men and women often have different ways of coping. Women tend to want to surround themselves with other people and talk through memories with friends and family. Men tend to find this type of social support less useful, and may prefer to work through things alone, at least at first [4].

Of course, this won’t be true for everyone. However you and your partner deal with loss, try to be patient with each other and understand that we all have our own ways of dealing with things.

Supporting someone else through grief

If someone you know is dealing with grief, give them a call. You could text them to arrange a convenient time, or you could just pick up the phone and see if they answer. If it’s not a convenient time, they will let you know.

If you want to do something practical, you could arrange to have something sent over. Lots of places are still delivering food, drink, flowers, books, and other things. Think about what might help cheer the person up and send them a pleasant surprise. This will let them know you are thinking about them.

References

[1] Mikulincer & Florian, 1996
[2] Stroebe & Schut, 1999
[3] Albuquerque, Narciso, & Pereira, 2018
[4] Bergstraesser, Inglin, Hornung, & Landolt, 2014

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