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As I sit in my home office (that I now actually use for thatpurpose), I am thinking about people who are grieving during this time. Now adays, I have a very quiet house with the exception of when my dog hearssomething to disturb his workday nap. I think about how different it would befor me if the COVID-19 crisis had happened when my now adult children wereyoung children. My first husband died when our children were 4 years-old and 9months-old. Frankly, some days getting out of the house and being around otherpeople was my biggest coping strategy (not to mention being able send the girlsto school or go to the YMCA while they played in its childcare center). Goingto our grief groups or just connecting with our friends was so important to us.What happens when we cannot use some of those reliable coping mechanisms whilegrieving?
People who are grieving have already had their worldsupended by loss and now it is upended again. Those grieving may slowly beadjusting to a “new normal” and now there is a major disruption in routine.Parents may worry that their children will fall more behind in school if theyare already struggling because of a loss. Families who have already been hithard financially due to a death may now face additional financial struggleswith layoffs or depleted savings. Children and teens are also missing sports,clubs, and hanging with friends – all of which can be helpful. Widows andsingle parents can feel overwhelmed by the 24/7 responsibility and now they maybe trying to work and homeschool solo without relief throughout the day. Grandparentsthat were serving as the primary caregiver for children may now have to beisolated.
Because of isolation, people may turn to the news and socialmedia to feel more connected. However, the 24/7 news cycle and social mediaposts about the virus may add additional stress to those who are grieving. Bothchildren and adults may be triggered by images and the talk of death online andon television. For families already struggling with loss, the COVID-19 crisisadds more stress and uncertainty. Those of us in the bereavement community aretrying to change the phrase from “social distancing” to “physical distancing.”We need social connection now more than ever. Reaching out to online griefgroups and scheduling FaceTime or Zoom meetings with family and friends canhelp break up the isolation.
However, virtual connections do not work for more practicalmatters and events. My mother-in-law died in January and my husband had plannedto help his sister clean out their mom’s house and now that is on hold. Peoplehave to adjust plans last minute and the uncertainty of what is next may be themost difficult part of the crisis. Children and teens may be missinggraduations, proms, and spring break trips. These events may be all the moreimportant to children and teens who are grieving as they were something to lookforward to. On the other hand, they may be relieved to not have to experiencethese events without their loved-one. Either way, we can validate thesefeelings and know they may change frequently.
I have no easy answers, just suggestions. For those grieving,be gentle and forgiving with yourself. If you have children, be the same withthem while keeping some kind of routine and expectation. Reach out to yoursupport circle virtually and take care of yourself. See some tips below forthose who are grieving and for those who are supporting people who aregrieving.
For those grieving:
Connectvirtually with those who support you.
Be patientwith yourself. No one has this figured out.
Answerchildren’s question honestly. Let them know all the things your family is doingto keep safe.
Go outsideand play…yes everyone…go for walks, ride bikes, and play games with oneanother. Schedule some outside time daily.
Limitmedia for you AND your children. Try to check in with news once a day as youfeel the need to be informed.
Remindyourself (and your children) that this is temporary. Make a list and plan forthe things you would want to do when the crisis is over.
Validatechildren and teens’ disappointment at all the secondary losses.
Plan yourweek with self-care involved. This may be very hard with young children, butinstead of doing laundry during naptime plan to read, nap, or try virtual yoga.
Sharestories and look at pictures of the person who died, but then plan to dosomething fun afterwards. You can go for a walk or cook together. Make sure youdo not overwhelm yourself or family members during this time.
You mayfind journaling helpful. Adult coloring may be more your speed to have somecalm down time at night instead of reading the news.
Reach outfor help if you feel overwhelmed. Many mental health providers are offeringtele-mental health services.