Without sounding like every new commercial, we are living in unprecedented times. Life did not stop just because we had to stay home. Many people in the world lost someone this year and not just to the virus. Cancer did not stop. Aging did not stop. Accidents did not stop. The pandemic has robbed us of pre-established routines for grief and is just another area where we have had to adapt and make compromises that do not always leave a good taste in our mouths.
Just because the world and the mourning process do not look the way anyone expected, does not mean that you cannot remember the person and honor their life. We are lucky to live in a world where you can attend a funeral a continent away with a camera and a Wi-Fi connection.
I found myself in the unfortunate circumstance to attend a funeral during this time. I am going to separate my thoughts about the process as myself and my clinical persona in a way to help you navigate this procedure should you find yourself in the same position, though I hope you do not.
Personally, I found the experience to be very surreal. The funeral mass was small, everyone was masked and separated, which was comforting but also bizarre. I live in a different state than my family, so I was in the same row as them but put a seat between us. It felt lonely and at times I felt very detached from the experience. I have been extremely cautious about the virus and seeing some people hugging and violating social distancing created anxiety for me. It was a confusing mess, but I was grateful to say goodbye to my loved one, even under the circumstances.
Now with my clinical hat, I understand that the feelings I had during this experience are totally normal. There is no expected response to loss and grief, especially when the normal process must be so adapted to keep everyone safe. Here are some tips to help you process loss in the wake of COVID-19:
• Find your own way to say goodbye. The funeral services, if allowed in your area, may not be what you expected. Find you own way to say goodbye to your loved one that fits with your own spiritual or religious beliefs. Say a prayer, write a letter, reach out to loved ones and share fond memories, whatever works for you.
• Practice self-compassion. It is okay to be sad. It is okay to not be sad. It is okay to not exactly know how you feel. Grief takes time and people process it at different speeds. The process is not exactly linear either and you may find yourself having a good day and some days where you miss your loved ones a lot.
• Plan a memorial once things return to something resembling normal. If you aren’t happy with the way you had to grieve your loved one, plan a memorial for after things calm down. You can spend time with the people that matter, share the memories you want to remember, and celebrate the life of the person you loved.
• Reach out for help if you feel like you need it. Coping with loss is difficult in the best of times and we are definitely not living in the best of times. It’s okay to reach out for assistance if you are having trouble dealing with it all. Finding a mental health professional to help you sort out your thoughts and feelings may be precisely what you need to process your loss.