We are currently towards the end of week 5/6 depending on location, of the coronavirus quarantine. And while we can finally start to see some light at the end of the tunnel, as a society there is a myriad of challenges that we should be gearing up to face as social distancing guidelines begin to ease up. In addition to the economic ramifications of the disease, I am a strong proponent of addressing the impact on mental health that the coronavirus can also have.
Covid-19 has proliferated in such a way that statistically, by the end of this, we will have either come in contact with the disease ourselves, or have known someone who has. There are currently almost 1 million cases in America, 2.7 million worldwide, with a subsequent death toll of 50,000 and 190,000, respectively. And with these numbers continuing to grow, there is a good chance that some of us may be grieving a loss before all of this is over.
In the last two months my family has experienced five deaths seemingly in succession; two of which were coronavirus related. Because of the timing of the passing’s, we did not have an opportunity to properly grieve everyone. In lieu of the coronavirus pandemic, several people who have lost someone have not been afforded the opportunity to properly grieve them. In China, the Chinese government has been cremating individuals that pass due to the coronavirus; in New York, they are storing people in deep freeze trucks, and morgues are either at or passed capacity.
The few memorial services that are being held, are being done with strict social distancing guidelines including: a nontraditional grave side service with a time cap of less than an hour, and a highly restricted number of potential guests, around 10. With such harsh stipulations, families are being left without their usual outlet of a proper funeral to facilitate their grieving process. In these extenuating circumstances, there is value in knowing what we can go through while grieving, and how we may be able to better facilitate the process for ourselves.
The Five Stages of Grief
Psychiatrist Elizabeth Kubler Ross developed the five stages of grief model to explain what it is we experience when we go through loss. Her model identifies denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance as the main stages or phases we go through while grieving. Keep in mind that the grieving process, is the healing process.
This stage helps us to survive the loss. We deny our reality. We numb ourselves to what we are experiencing and try to carry on business as usual. The goal in this stage is to just get through each day. Ross believed that this stage is nature’s way of helping us cope, by not allowing us to get overwhelmed.
Anger is an essential part of the healing process. We get through our anger at the loss of someone by leaning into the fact that we are angry. We must be willing to feel our anger. Our anger during this stage can express itself in a variety of different ways that are unique to everyone.
We may find ourselves projecting, putting our feelings on to someone or something else. We may also find ourselves getting upset over things that normally would not elicit a vitriol response. The fact of the matter is, anger is a response to the pain someone begins to feel once the denial wears off, and reality starts to sink in. Do not be afraid to be upset, real healing comes when we allow ourselves to properly experience the emotions that come with our anger.
Bargaining presents itself as a desired escape from reality. We wrestle with “if then” and “what if” statements and try to quantify the loss in deeds. It is almost a state of delusion that we find ourselves in as we try to negotiate the terms of which our deceased loved one can return to life.
We long for a return to normal and run through scenarios in our mind that we think would have potentially prevented our loved one from passing. This stage is particularly turbulent as we may vacillate through the other stages while bargaining, as well as bear the weight of guilt. While bargaining, all we want is for the hurting to stop.
After being overwhelmed with our emotions and coming to grips with what we are experiencing, we may find ourselves in a depressed state. Depression is normal when grieving a loss and should be treated as such. It is just a phase, and no matter how long it takes for someone to get through it, they will.
The self-blaming, the low energy levels, the sadness, the loneliness, and withdrawal, it all may feel insurmountable; Know all of that is part of processing grief. It is important that while in this stage, we allow ourselves the time necessary to explore and understand our depression; and to not allow ourselves to be ostracized by it.
Acceptance is us finally acknowledging our new reality for what it is: our loved one is no longer with us, and they are not coming back. This is when we learn to live with our new lives. The adjustment may be difficult at first, but we learn to manage. This does not mean that we do not ever miss our loved one; they will always be a part of us, but we learn how to live and miss them at the same time.
This will most likely be a gradual process as we must acclimate to a new normal, some more drastic than others. It is encouraged to not neglect our needs during this time. Its important to be in tune with our feelings and be able to process them reasonably and give ourselves what is necessary for our needs to be met. This can look like anything from more time to ourselves, joining support groups, therapy, or leaning into already existing relationships.
How to Grieve Well
Typically, a funeral can usher us in and or through these stages of grief. However, with limited access to such gatherings it is important that if we find ourselves experiencing a loss, that we can first identify where we are in the stages. Let us not be afraid to ask ourselves: “What stage of grief am I in?”.
By knowing what we may be experiencing at any given time, we allow ourselves to identify our emotions and mental state of being. By knowing where we are, we can begin to change how we are. Given the previous example, we may want to ask ourselves instead of what stage of grief am I in, what stage of healing am I in? Controlling the narrative can be a good way to self-manage and facilitate personal healing.
During the various stages of the grieving/healing process that may also look like becoming better at knowing when we may be angry and how to manage that behavior; or applying different mental health strategies if we find ourselves in a state of depression.
Grieving well requires that we be honest with ourselves and our loved ones. It means that we are willing to yes express, but also challenge our emotions. It also means that we do not rush through our process.
I know for me, when I grieve, historically I tend to spend a lot of time in the denial and depression stages. What those stages look like for me, may be different then what they look like for someone else, but by being able to pinpoint where I am, I am allowing myself ultimately, to be found. That is what grieving well is: acknowledging that we need time to heal and putting ourselves in a position that gives us both the time and resources necessary to do so.
While none of us anticipate being in a situation where we are grieving a loved one, grief and loss is a part of life; and has been magnified by the coronavirus pandemic. Knowing what to expect while grieving and being able to grieve well by knowing one’s self while going through the stages, will allow for a better more fulfilling healing process.
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