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  • Kirsten White

Grief During Self-Isolation

The COVID-19 pandemic has added a whole new level of complexity to those who are grieving and are being asked to socially isolate. Usually when we grieve it’s a natural time for everyone to gather together and find connection when attachment has been ripped away.

When someone (or a pet) we love dies, our whole world can sometimes feel as if it’s been turned upside down. Our hearts ache as we move through a new world where the loved one is no longer there. We live in a foreign land and our bodies, mind, and spirit have a hard time adjusting to this world with out this connection. Everything is topsy-turvy as we slow down to mourn. Many are grieving as a direct result of COVID-19 and others for different reasons. What happens when we cannot gather at funerals, visit loved ones in care homes or hospitals, say goodbye to our dying loved ones, or even have rituals that offer some peace and comfort? Many in the world are being disconnected from the end of life moments. There may be many secondary losses as a result of this but know you are not alone!

How do we mourn and grieve in a world that is in chaos and everyone’s fears, lives, and ways of being are being turned upside down. Add on the social isolation and it’s even more challenging! Human beings need others. We are social beings and there is great power in touch, attachment, and social connection. We often cannot heal alone and we use ritual to find meaning and comfort. For many it can be quite dangerous to self isolate. We are in a very challenging time of adapting to new ways of connection and mourning.

So, how can we mourn and grieve in self isolation? All these suggestions are common to hear even if we aren’t socially isolating but they’ve been adapted to fit with physical distancing.

  1. Self-Care: This gets thrown around a lot these days but meeting basic needs is that much more important when you’re grieving. Drink lots of water, remember to eat a little, get up and walk around, and keep up with basic hygiene as best you can.

  2. Develop a routine and schedule: Everyone can benefit from this one but try to keep up with routines and create a schedule. This gives a sense of purpose and stability amongst chaotic times. This may feel like “going through the motions” and that’s okay.

  3. Connect and talk with others about your loved one. During isolation you will have to get creative on how you want to connect. There are lots of video services out there that can allow you to see others.

  4. Practice deep diaphragm breathing and check in with you. Remind yourself that you are in this moment. Gentle massages that you can give your self and putting pressure on your body gives your body a moment of regulation.

  5. Activate the Ventral Vagus Nerve: Our ventral vagus nerve is our social engagement system and is likely becomes under active when we are in social isolation. -again deep breathing -dance -sing and talk -take a shower

  6. Create: Express your grief in creative and artistic ways. Journalling can be helpful to many. Writing letters to the loved one, especially if you were not able to say goodbye, can be connecting. Create art, music, short stories, gardening (inside), sew, dance, however you want to create!

  7. Transition items: If you are in possession of something that your loved one had, that they gave you, or that reminds you of them, it can be nice to hold and connect with them with this object. Carry their words, stories, and experiences in your mind. Take moments to miss them and remember them.

  8. Pace yourself: Finding a balance of allowing emotion to overtake you and getting back to “life” tasks can be overwhelming and confusing. Go slow, give time to feel, be compassionate to yourself, and be patient. Sometimes grief can look like depression but often it’s the body saying we need to slow down, feel, connect, and heal.

  9. Connect with groups online. Reach out to FB groups, online grief groups, phone family members, provide check-ins to others who are grieving with you, listen and share.

  10. Rituals: If you are unable to attend funerals (many are broadcast virtually), and if you are technology inclined, create a memorial video or memory video for friends and family. Or just for yourself. Find other ways to honour and bring your loved one into this new way of life…saying hello every morning, prayer, talking to them, listening to their favourite music, walking their favourite path (dogs), make their favourite dinner etc.

  11. Give back: Help someone else, give back to the community, support your loved one’s causes or favourite places, etc. Many will come together and find support in runs, awareness groups, or charities. Right now we can’t do these community based support programs but many will be adapting their supportive channels. Create a group or support a cause virtually.

  12. Find a therapist: Anyone who has experienced a loved one dying and find themselves needing to share or talk about what they are going through…finding a good therapist that works with grief and bereavement can be just what is needed. They can normalize, empathize, and witness your experience with compassion and understanding. Sometimes 1 or 2 sessions is all you might feel you need. Most therapists are adapting their practices to virtual settings. Ask about a sliding scale rate if you don’t have insurance coverage at this time.

Grieving is painful, mourning is hard work, but I hope you know that you are not alone even if physically we have to be.

I’ll try and add to this list and would welcome any suggestions in the comments.

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