Content warning: the article below discusses sensitive concepts, including loss, death, suicide, and general experience of grief due to the span of tragedy in 2020 and 2021
2020 was a grueling year to say the least–between natural and human-made disasters, the pandemic, and political unrest, suffering and loss plagued the world. In 2021, we started the year with a siege on the U.S. capitol attempting to overthrow the election results of 2020. COVID-19 vaccinations are slow to supply across the globe, with only 60% of% U.S. adults fully vaccinated as of July 26, 2021—and we’ve well passed the year mark of isolation practices.
We experience grief as a result of sudden or prolonged loss. We also experience grief in anticipation of loss. When things are open-ended, we struggle with anticipation of when things will end and feel defeated or helpless. This is part of the anticipatory grief that can occur. It could be argued that we are collectively grieving the world as we knew it pre-COVID, the loss of human connection and freedoms we took for granted. Many of us have experienced so much death–particularly of our loved ones and people we admire. We’ve been through so many missed opportunities and plans. We anticipate change in the future, unsure of what things will look like when we enter the phases of new and changed normalcy.
It is easy to see why many of us are experiencing exceptional levels of grief in reaction to the variety of catastrophes in the world since the beginning of the pandemic. The emotional reaction we have to loss, or grief, can be an inconsistent experience. At its worst, grief is intense, comes in waves, and often hits us in unexpected moments. It is impossible to control and can last from months to years. Grief can also look like a brief period of sadness, followed by an upward acclimation back to a sense of emotional baseline. Emotional pain experienced during grief triggers activity in the brain in the same area where we experience physical pain–part of why grief hits us so hard. Common emotional experiences during grief include numbness, low mood, sadness, frustration, anger, overwhelm, regret, and more.
The mourning process eases over time, particularly as we get used to and adapt to life after our losses. Sometimes we experience a new dedication to our ways of living, particularly in honor of the losses we have suffered. Hope can spark in the changes we see as we move forward, experiencing life through a different lens. Regardless of the source of our grief or the length of our bereavement, we must deal with loss if we want to feel better. There are several things we can do to manage grief and bereavement, here are four ideas that are typically helpful for me:
- Tokens and Mementos: Particularly in situations where we suffer the death or suicide of a loved one, all we have is what they’ve left behind. If we’re sentimental, we don’t even need the personal items of someone we’ve lost to remember them–all we need is a sensory reminder like the smell of stew or a lavender candle. It can be our own personal time capsule; an internal reminder that they are always with us in our hearts and memories.
- Silent Co-Existence: When others offer to be with us when we grieve, or if we need company but don’t want to talk, it’s okay to ask for silent company too. Whether we hang with friends via video conferencing app or safely in person, we can do so without the need to talk. Sometimes the best medicine is knowing that we are not alone, in this very moment, but can still do things separately like playing a game or just breathing. Sometimes the comforting person on the other end needs to know it’s okay to be quiet with us.
- Rolling With It: When strong emotions happen or last longer than we’d like, it can be incredibly helpful to take deep breaths and just let our bodies get used to the idea of feeling something for a bit. It is important to remember that strong emotions must pass, as it is impossible to have strong reactions like an adrenaline rush for too long. Practicing non-judgmental experience of emotions can help us feel better and get back to living.
- Closure: If there are things left unsaid or impossible to accomplish due to the losses we’ve suffered, it can be miserable. When we face situations where there is no closure to be had, it can be useful to consider things that would help with it if we had the opportunity to do so. Maybe we write a letter to the person we lost, saying the things we wish we said. We could take a virtual tour of the place we wished we visited, or even use VR if we have access to the technology – several geo-location experience apps can help simulate being somewhere from wherever we are. Finding ways to acknowledge the lost experiences or conversations can help us feel more comfortable with closure, even if it is indirect.
As we continue the harrowing experience of surviving a pandemic, remember, it is okay to not be okay. It is brave to call in reinforcements and work on ourselves. If you are seeking support or need to find someone to talk to, please check out Take This’ resources page.