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Managing Grief in COVID-19 Times

Posted 28 April 2020
by Gordan Stokes

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected everyone on the entire planet in many ways.  Some more directly than others.  Those of us directly affected are now living much-changed lives, maintaining safe health practices, adapting to being isolated from family, friends, colleagues and our community.  How we work has changed considerably, some are adapting to not working and wondering about their financial future.  There has been so much upheaval, and many of us will be feeling any number of different emotions. One that will be common to many is grief. 

Many associate grief with the loss of a loved one or close friend.  But we will feel sadness as part of a process of change, sometimes significant and sometimes minimal, or even subtle, only realising the effect on reflection.  Much of the grief that we are experiencing is the sense of loss of how life was before, individual loss as well as the broader community loss.  Direct loss through illness and death caused by COVID-19 is something that sadly, has affected many.  Also, there are those of us who have lost a job, with all the instability that brings and very real implications that will result, or had substantial change to our work.  Then there are the community losses, the destabilisation of economic systems, healthcare provision, education, and so much more.  And by association, there is the loss of certainty, stability, and control. 

The first thing to appreciate is that grief is quite natural and is something we all experience.  The Grief Curve (Kubler Ross) highlights the stages that we may go through.  Not everyone’s response is the same and people may jump backwards and forwards through different emotions.  The typical stages are:

  • Denial – Blame Others
  • Denial – Blame Self
  • Doubt, uncertainty, and confusion
  • Acceptance
  • Solutions and Problem Solving
  • Moving on

Throughout the process, we must accept and face the grief and work through it.  We may move in and out of the different stages, and that too is natural.  We will be distracted and sometimes go from happiness to despondency.  It can be beneficial to talk to someone close to you, particularly as they might be going through a similar process.  It is worth remembering that this is a shared experience and as such, your desire to work towards a solution will be shared by many across the globe.  It is imperative that you stay connected to your family and friends. Linking with local and national groups can also be a great booster.

Professional help should also be accessed if there is a feeling of depression, and there are many resources available; counsellors and psychologists can help you through the grieving process if you have lost someone during this time. 

If someone in your team or the broader organisation has experienced the death of someone close to them be mindful that the process of managing this may be different in COVID-19 times. Many countries are only allowing a handful of people at a funeral.  Some additional mourners may be able to watch using remote camera technology, and others may not.  It is also likely that there may not be an ability for people to physically get together to share the experience and share hugs and stories. Grief may take longer to process without these steps that we tend to gravitate towards as human beings. Being mindful of your team members/colleagues during this time and expressing empathy not only for their loss but the loss of a more ‘normal’ process may help.

Finally, thinking about grief more generally, remember things will get better, and life will return to a new normal.  We will learn much and be able to draw on the experience, gaining strength from new insights into how to deal with future challenges.

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