Grieving During the Pandemic

Do a simple Google search and it will be confirmed; grieving the death of a loved one is ranked as the most impactful of life’s stressors. It retains its number one status across lists, with the death of a spouse or child garnering higher attribution than other losses. Add in COVID’s effects upon jobs and financial concerns and most grievers will make three check marks within that top ten list of life’s stressors.  The grieving population that is living amidst the implications of the health precautions erected in the face of the coronavirus are likely to be facing unprecedented dysregulation and distress.

Part of the grieving experience involves naturally encountering stimuli that confronts us with the loss and reminds us that our spouse, child, parent, grandparent, sibling and friend are actually gone. These stimuli are often present in our homes and include photographs, clothing, their empty chair, stories and disrupted routines. While we are sheltering at home, it may be difficult to focus on anything but the person’s death.

From one’s identity without the deceased, to any adjustments in the physical environment, to future plans, our imposed isolation can shackle the other naturally occurring part of our grieving process called restoration. Usually we can behave our way into small re-investments in life and living, and then discover rather haphazardly those in which we find a measure of joy or meaning.  Yet opportunities for re-engagement with others and places of interest are muddled with threats of the contagion.  Due to these numerous challenges, it can be helpful to consciously consider how to better support oneself while in the grieving process given the added constraints of the virus.

Similar to other times of suffering, it is beneficial to cover your bases when grieving during COVID.

  • Ensure that you impose some routine upon yourself, have nutritious meals at usual intervals, and get enough sleep–7-8 hours are recommended by most experts.
  • Teach your body to become regulated again by keeping similar sleep and wake times.
  • Move your body every day with some sustained effort by walking, running, gardening, sweeping or stretching.
  • Stay or get connected to others. Reach out, initiate a phone call with a trusted other or answer the phone when a friend calls. If possible, see them in person − six feet apart and preferably outside. Give and ask for virtual hugs and soak in their kindness and love.

Uncertainty abounds within the process of grief and a pandemic. Notice where you do have choice, control and influence, and exercise that in ways that are helpful to you and others. While it is useful to confront the loss, a chronic exposure can induce a crippling effect.  Dose yourself by interlacing regular bouts of healthy distraction or calming behaviors.

  • Watch a comedy, listen to music, sing a silly song, pet a dog or cat, dance, blow bubbles, engage in a home improvement project.
  • Think of how to soothe yourself during these times, notice what can bring even a moment of comfort. Search for inspirational books, speeches, plays or historical figures. Play a game, escape into a novel, take up knitting, painting, or cooking. Think on a sensory level and give yourself gifts of good smells, tastes and sound.

Despite the worldwide challenges and uncertainty, notice too that you and other bereaved are courageously continuing your grieving process. With compassion, consciousness, and simple choices of support, you, the griever, can adapt, evolve and gradually integrate the death and its implications into your life. You are in the process of living again even while sheltering in place.

By Liane Fry, LMFT, FT
The Elizabeth Hospice Clinical Counseling Program Supervisor


Calming audio files from the World Health Organization