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Murrell Counseling Service, LLC

Consulting, Evaluations & Therapy

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What Works in Grieving Losses from COVID-19

Posted on January 29, 2021 at 11:05 AM

Many of us will look back at 2020 and the pandemic with relief at having the year over as well as the promise of "normalacy" returning.  We are now aware that with the dissmination of the vaccines we can begin to see  businesses and schools opening, social gatherings flourishing, as well as need physical contact with friends and loved ones.  It's been a tough challenge for everyone around us and especially hard on those who have suffered from severe losses.  That loss may have come in the form of a lost job, a lost business, a lost opportunity to go to college, a cancelled trip abroad, or tragically the loss of a loved one. Certianly the loss of a family memember is often the most devestating of all.  To make matters worse for the grieving family during the pandemic there were restrictions on how many people could gather together to do a celebration of life or a funeral.  This need for social distancing, while necessary, has curtailed or even eliminated a necessary ritual that helps all of us come to terms with the final and eternal loss of a loved one through death. Here are some guidelines developed from my own personal losses,  readings, and observations over the past 34 years of being a therapist that may be helpful to those who are going through grief.

.1. The first stage of grief is shock and denial.  This means that when something happens to a loved one our first reaction is often to say to ourselves or even outloud, "No!".  It is a means of trying to control what we have just heard or witnesses about a terrifble loss.  It is our instinctive reaction to try to stop what has already happened.  It is self-protective and self-defeating because logically we are helpless to control all the events in our lives that we would wish to and especially the loss of a loved one.  The shock often is accompanied by an emotional numbness and allows us to feel almost nothing for a period of time as our emotions go from overload to nothing  It is analygous to tripping a circuit breaker and having the electiricity cut off for that line so that nothing is registered.

2. The second stage we wil go through often is anger and guilt.  These two emotions may bounce us back and force between feeling aggressive to the pont of waning to lash out at someone or something alternating with a deep sense that we should have done something, anything to change the course of events to have saved this person's life.

3. The third stage of grief may then be "bartering with God" or attempting to "make a deal with God".  Often I have heard from clients that I have seen that they want to ask God for a favor such as "save my loved one and I will be in church every Sunday" or "cure me of this fatal illness and I will help the poor every day of my life".  These acts of contrition may in fact actually lead to the restoration of health and then the good works that were promised.  Regardless of the outcome they represent a normal and deperate attempt to control an outcome that is cliearly out of our control.

4. The fourth stage is often depresson.  This stage is where the actually deep emotional coming to terms with the loss occurrs.   The feelings of depression and sorrow often comes in waves.  I remember that when my father died in 2003 that I experienced what I would call "waves of sorrow" that seemed to wash over me and leave me sobbing in tears.  It was not unlike similar experiences I have had while surfing in deep water except this time instead of being exhilirated by the pleasure of being lifted by the waves and then dropped it was the very unpleasant feeling of sorrow literally washing over me then pounding me down deeper into depression. There is often a loss of energy to the point where the grieving person has no interest in going to work, enjoying hobbies, taking care of their personal hygiene or even getting out of bed.  Other symptoms can include overearing or loss of appetite, obsessive thinking about what could have been said or done differently in their relationship (inappropriate guilt), social isolation, extreme need for companionship, problems with concentration, indecison, loss of self confidence brought about by severe negative self-talk and sometimes suicidal ideation.  The degree of depression can range from minor symptoms such as only minor insomnia to suicidal thoughts with a plan to kill oneself.  Obviously these symptoms need to be discussed with one's primary care physician, other family members and friends and probabliy a clergy member who has training in grief counseling.  Behavior health professionals who have graining in treating grief, bereavement and depression can be very useful as well.

5. Eventuall the individual reaches the stabe of acceptance of the loss.  As the old saying goes, "When one door closes soon another door opens" and this is certainly true in greiving a loss.  It will not happen as soon as one would want (it never is) but if the indivdiual keeps talking about their feelings the day will come where the pain is lessened and enthusiasm for live blooms once again.  It is always a good thing to weep when it feels overwhelming because this is a natural release of tensoin that moves one closer and closer to acceptance and peace.  The Bible verse from Corinthians 4: 17-18 states, "And this too shall pass." is a comfort for believers because it brings to mind all the previous losses that have been successfully navigated in the past that have eventually led back to normalacy. 

6.There are a number of things that can be done to hasten or at least facilitate the moverment through the grieving process.  One of the most important is to be open and talk about the loss that one has suffered.  Many churches have "Grief Groups" with lay leaders who are skilled faciltators who can guide the participants through the stages of grief.  It is important to know that it is possible to "get stuck" in the grieving process when an individual does NOT talk about their emotions.  I can remember one of the first clients I saw some 33 years ago came to my office and was always irritable and in a bad mood.  The client worked to repossess automobiles from individuals who had stopped paying for their cars.  The client was gruff and aggressive which seemed to be an asset for the type of work they had chosen.  I confronted them on their third visit to my office by sayng, "When you come in here to see me I am a little bit intimidated by your anger and irriaitibility."   What they said in response to me was shocking.  The client replied, "I am not angry really I am just so sad that my husband divorced me after 30 years without even explaining why he was leaving".  That was an eye opener.  The client was stuffing her sadness and hurt so much that it came out as anger in her behavior.  This was something that once she started talking about it she was able to work it through to final acceptance, but only because she finally chose to talk about her emotions.

7. Along with talking about feelings it is important to examine one's own feeling about death.  Part of the reason  for avoiding the pain of grieving having a family member die is that we generally don't want to face the fact that we will have to face our own death one day.   There are numerous books, both religious and secular about death and how best to face that reality.  One book that I found to be helpful to my clients and also to myself was entitled,"7 Lessons From Heaven" by Mary Neal M.D.  This book details her near death experience of being trapped under water in a kayak for 30 minutes and emerging alive.  How this seemingly impossible event occurred is fascinating stuff and riviting reading.

8. It is important to remember to take good care of one's sefl when grieving because the act of greiving is itself very stresful.  For this reason it is important to find comfort in the company of old friends, familar hobbies, comfort food, regular exercise to loosen the tension in the body that accompanies emotional pain, and to have specific goals to accomplish each day (even if that goal is only to write three pages in your journal or talk for 30 minutes to a friend or pastor about the feelings that are coming up).

9. While grieving it is important to suspend making any big decisions until the work of grief is over.  This is not a great time to change careers, life partners, or move to a new state.  It is a time to slow down and to take stock of life.  As one sees the door closing to a loving relationship it is important to see how another door opens and new possibliites as well as insights become availble.  The net results can be a new set of insights and awarenesses.  The French have a term for this new apprecaiton of life and they say "La Joie De Vivre" has ben found.  Translated roughly it means "The Joy of Life" has returned.

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