Dealing with grief is tough, and dealing with grief during a pandemic is a whole lot tougher when we can’t be consoled with cuddles, cuppas, and conversations that aren’t via a screen.
The good news is that things are looking up, and it’s not long till we can get some comfort back, but it’s not going to solve everything, so how can we deal with grief - even with a bit of normality?
It’s better to have loved and lost
Grief never truly goes away, and that’s important to remember. It’s the emotion we feel from losing someone or something physically but never losing the emotional tie to them. This is why we handle it differently from one person to another, why it takes time to get through, and unfortunately why it can be so painful.
It doesn’t go away, but we learn to cope with the loss and the emotions change with time. Even when we look back at memories and can feel happy, lucky or blessed, the loss still stings. All because we loved them dearly (even if we didn’t feel that way all the time), love is the connection we hold with the person we lost and why we experience grief. It can feel chaotic, out of control, and intense, and we’re not surprised having looked at what happens in the brain when we grieve.
The brain and grief
Grief does strange things to us, we’re more easily confused, forgetful and decision-making seems almost impossible at times. We’re conflicted with a flurry of emotions that we can flick between at alarming rates; angry, sad, laughing, crying. And often our anxiety is heightened which makes trying to cope with it a navigational nightmare - like when the map stops updating on the sat nav in the middle of nowhere, and we haven’t a clue where we are or how to get where we’re going.
This is because grief is an emotional trauma, just as physical trauma to the brain impacts our brains’ functioning, emotional trauma temporarily does the same, causing these difficulties and turbulent feelings, and so it’s really not surprising grief can send us west.
4 stages of grief and getting through them
There are many recognised stages of grief, but when it comes to dealing with it we consider the following four stages to be most helpful - we won’t necessarily go through them in order, but eventually, we will get through them at our own pace.
1. Accepting loss is real
This is a difficult one, and being told to accept loss can be about as useful as telling people with anxiety to calm down, or those with depression to cheer up. Acceptance is the first step in overcoming misfortune - of any kind. However, we cannot rush through this, it’s not as simple as taking action and making changes so if it takes weeks, months or even years that’s totally fine and quite normal. We can continue with our lives before we’ve got through this stage but it can be noticeably tougher on our heartstrings. Accepting the sad news simply takes time so take each day as it comes - if it’s a tough one take it easy, if it’s more bearable embrace it, and as time passes, more and more days will feel a little easier.
2. Experience the pain
When it comes to grieving we need to allow ourselves to feel all the emotions that come with it - whether it’s despair and anger, sad and lonely or happily reminiscing through teary-eyes. If wandering the isles of the supermarket spurs a spell of tears - feel it, let it out, people will have cried at the checkout for stranger reasons. If the comfort and privacy of our own home or even car are preferred, then make a mental note to experience it later - it’ll brew up anyway.
If we try to shut these feelings out, getting through the pain will take longer and they’ll likely pop up unannounced elsewhere. Talk to close people around us, tell them we’re having a tough time, and be compassionate with ourselves. Find some coping skills that take care of our feelings, like ways to relax, or to channel the sadness into something tangible; creativity, exercise, gardening or even a family debate to release some tension.
3. Adjusting to life without them
When we’re constantly thinking or reminded of the past, we can get stuck there, but we’ll always carry some emotional weight with grief, so we’ll never really leave them behind. Sure, we’ll see, hear and feel things that remind us of the person now and then, so what we want to try to manage is, thinking fondly rather than feeling overwhelmingly defeated by grief. Try reflecting through this period, finding strength in what we’re going through and recognising our ability to cope, what we have successfully managed - whether that’s merely getting out of bed and showering for the past three days or managing to get back to our normal daily lives, taking the kids to the park, running errands, or getting back to work. Remember, reminisce and honour them however we see fit, but keep the bigger picture in mind. Our lives are made up of many elements; socialising, work, health, wealth, hobbies that will still be around to cherish.
4. Changing the emotional energy
This simply means putting less emotional energy into grieving, and finding something else to pour it into - a new hobby, a new goal, perhaps a change in career. Something that excites us again. Experiencing grief can make time feel like it’s stopped, but it doesn’t truly. It’s totally fine to pause and take time, but here’s how we can press play again when we are ready. Set new goals, challenges or tasks to help us keep moving forward, even if it is slowly. When we do this, we don’t have to be over it, have it all figured out or feel that we are totally stable yet. And we don’t have to do it every day, but keeping something in the back of our minds will remind us to keep going, whatever the pace is.
Gentle reminder: Now, this advice is great if we’re in the right place. But the thing with grief is - it’s so complex, different for everyone, and the only real ‘cure’ is time. Take it one day at a time, find small things that spark joy, and remember grief will change from truly awful, to fond memories eventually, and while it might still catch us off guard every now and then, it's all thanks to having had someone important in our lives in the first place - hang in there, you got this!