Why Covid-19-related grief can be so challenging
Grief in general is difficult. It can feel like sadness and loss permeate every aspect of day to day living. Losing someone to covid-19 can have added layers of complexity to grieving that I want to recognize.
A loss of traditions and rituals adds to grief
Depending on when you lost your person and covid regulations at the time, you might not have been able to hold your traditional ways of honoring your loved one.
You may have not been able to hold a funeral or attend a gathering if it involved travel or limitations in attendees. Funeral parlors may or may not have had the technology to offer ways of virtually attending, and even if this was offered, there may have been disruptions or poor connection.
This was especially true during the spring and summer of 2020. Even if you were able to attend a gathering, it likely looked very different than pre-pandemic times.
Showing up to a service where everyone is wearing masks and can not be close to each other is extremely jarring to our nervous systems. You might not have even been able to engage in the traditions and rituals that help honor your loved one or that are religiously and culturally important to assist your loved one in the after life.
All of this is an additional layer of grief when we feel we are not able to properly engage in the honoring and sending off of a loved one.
The lost goodbye
Many loved ones of those who died due to covid-19 were not able to say goodbye either because of hospital policy or a choice to protect oneself and other loved ones from contracting the virus.
There is absolutely an extra layer of grief when thinking of loved one’s circumstances during death and dying. Was anyone able to hold their hand? Were they alone? What state of mind were they in and what were they feeling?
If you were able to see your person to say goodbye, the necessary medical protective gear that you had to wear in healthcare facilities could have felt uncomfortable and like a barrier to the desired intimacy called for by the situation. Seeing your loved one in the ICU or on medical equipment and the impact of the virus on their body or mind can also be traumatic.
How does the political and social climate add to COVID-19 grief?
This is something that is not often discussed but can add a complexity to grief.
Perhaps you have family or friends who do not believe the virus exists or are anti-mask/anti-vax. Perhaps you see or hear people who you know peripherally or don’t know at all but interact with them at work or the grocery store, on social media or where you live or where you grew up.
When you are in pain from losing someone in this devastating way, these viewpoints and perspectives can feel invalidating at the least. You might feel enraged or brokenhearted. It can also be challenging if you or your loved one believed that it was not necessary to take safety measures or did not believe the virus would have a deadly impact to only find yourself in this devastating grief process.
At the time of writing this, vaccines are not accessible to everyone in all parts of the world and the unequal access of this lifesaving measure can add complexity to grief.
How does survival guilt relate to COVID-19 grief?
It is unfortunately not uncommon for entire households or multiple members of family/beloved friends to contract Covid-19. Perhaps you were also hospitalized or worried for multiple people in critical condition. Perhaps you experienced mild symptoms whereas your loved one died.
It is understandable that feelings might arise of survival guilt or wondering about treatments or conditions that might have made a difference in saving their life.
It is impossible to trace origins of contracting the virus at this time because it is so wide spread but if you are feeling heartbreak due to the fear or worry that you had caused someone to be sick, this is so so very difficult.
You are not alone. At the time of writing this article, 723,205 people in the USA and 4,890,424 people world wide have died from documented Covid-19 related deaths (according to the CDC and WHO). These numbers are devastating because every number is a beloved one and every loss has ripple effects.
Resources for COVID-19 Grief Support
Firstly, I want to invite you to welcome all the feelings that might be arising for you during this difficult time. I especially want to make space for anger and sadness, these two tend to be felt pervasively and it is important to give yourself permission and time to feel deeply and to just not be OK.
If it feels right to you, let your trusted network know and lean into asking for support. Those that surround you care about you and it helps them to help you in anyway you deem appropriate.
The Covid Grief Network offers free 8 week virtual support groups for young people in their 20s and 30s who have lost someone special due to covid19. Find more information here: www.covidgriefnetwork.org
If you are in California, I offer sliding scale embodied creative therapy to honor your person and grief process. My website is www.lhgcounseling.com You can also find other therapists and you can search for therapists who work with Covid-19 related issues on www.mentalhealthmatch.com.
If you are searching for a therapist, many offer a free introduction call and you can ask if they are covid grief aware and covid conscious.
Wishing you feelings of love and support,
Larissa Hul-Galasek, LMFT