5 Tips for Caring for your Grief during COVID-19 and the Holidays
For many people, the holidays are a time of celebration, community and cheer; but for those who have experienced loss around this time, it can become a period of increased stress and grief. This can lead those experiencing these reactions of loss and grief to feel the need to isolate and withdraw from their loved ones. Trying to navigate these feelings, especially combined with the new anxiety surrounding COVID-19, can create a different grief experience altogether. Being told we have to quarantine from our loved ones during a time where isolation may already be at the forefront of a persons’ mind can create an unhealthy state of mind in those already experiencing grief.
Here are 5 tips to care for your grief during the COVID-19 holiday season:
- Make a Plan ‘A’, ‘B’ and even a ‘C’
With grief, often it is the intrusive memories and stimuli combined with the ‘not knowing’ and anticipation of what the holiday will look like that can add to anxiety. This can also lead to more stress over how the holiday will unfold, which can cause uncertainty over how to cope and navigate through this time without a loved one. By making a Plan A, B and C, this allows families to adjust, adapt and collaborate to their grief needs as the ‘daunting’ event arrives.
For example: “Do I cook our usual dinner? Joe always did the ham prep.”
- Plan A: Have the usual dinner plan and ask another family member to fill the responsibility of the ham prep.
- Plan B: I’m too tired to cook dinner, put a family member in charge of a potluck.
- Plan C: Order delivery
- Collaborate with each other when it comes to traditions and rituals.
Many consider keeping the same traditions during the holidays as it can be a way for them to feel more comfortable and stable. This can make them feel as though they have some degree of control over an event that has been unpredictable and disruptive in their lives. In contrast, others may find it too painful to participate in their usual traditions and rituals because the idea that the person is no longer present in these moments can be incredibly difficult to bare.
Collaborating with family members around usual rituals is important because some family members may want to participate, while others may not. Make sure to voice your opinions regarding sensitive topics. Asking and listening to all family members (including children) about their thoughts and feelings is an effective way to ensure each persons’ needs are being met.
This year, with COVID-19 being thrown into the mix, most rituals are being put on hold due to the lockdown. For some people, this may bring about a sense of relief and reprieve. This can be beneficial because it gives them a chance to catch their breath this season, which can allow them to be able to return to their usual holiday traditions next year when they’re feeling more ready.
For others who need the usual traditions to feel purpose and to have a degree of control in their grief, the lockdown may create further distress and a leave them with a sense of powerlessness. I invite you to consider creating your own temporary tradition(s) adapted to your present locked down restrictions. Things such as decorating the tree with your family over Zoom, family game night over Skype or any sort of virtual online connections are excellent ways to remain engaged with family members.
- Nurture your body.
Grief is hard on the body. It can be comparable to a double or triple workout at the gym because all your organs are working overtime due to the fight or flight response from your nervous system. In the early days of grief, I encourage you to drink water, especially when tears are present. Make sure that you’re snacking (even if you’re not hungry). If you cannot stomach food, try using smoothies that include vegetables and fruit. Small things such as cutting up cheese crackers and keeping them in your purse or in your car is also a way to get a bit of extra protein in your body in the moments where hunger may be at the forefront of your mind. Continuing to take your vitamins and trying to rest is also a good way to give your body a chance to recharge.
- Acknowledge that there is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to experience and cope with grief during the holidays.
Everyone deals and processes grief differently, especially in these unprecedented times regarding COVID-19. There is no manual or list of milestones and stages you must reach in order to process or manage your feelings properly. If you need to be surrounded by loved ones, make sure you are doing that. If you need to be alone to process the loss, it is also okay that you do that; but remember you do not have to go through this burden of loss alone and there are many different resources available to help you.
- Connect with others; even with COVID-19 isolation and the lockdown we are not truly alone.
Here are some ways that you can connect with others at this time:
- Making a good old-fashioned telephone call. If you need to cope by chatting to feel less alone, this is a good way to connect with multiple loved ones for however long you need to. It is also important to explain your boundaries. If you are tired or need to be alone, make sure to communicate that to your loved ones by saying things such as: “I only have 15 minutes to chat.”
- Using Zoom, Skype and FaceTime and other video opportunities for visual opportunities to see your loved ones is an excellent way to feel as though you have them in the room with you throughout the lockdown.
- Connecting with the community online via support chat groups for grief and COVID-19 are an effective way to find a virtual community. Oftentimes, talking to people outside your circle can be therapeutic for processing your loss as well.
- Find a grief therapist who offers online support. This can be a successful method to help you navigate and process your grief, especially if you are feeling overwhelmed.
The hardest part about getting through the holidays after the loss of a loved one is your mind tricking you into believing that you can’t get through this difficult time. Even though time may pass and eventually the pain won’t be so fresh, the sadness surrounding the memory may linger- especially during the holiday season. In these moments, it is important to remember that time is fluid and can always move us forward. In the blink of the eye, the day or the event will have come and gone and you will now have this concept called ‘hindsight’ that allows you to reflect upon how you got through that experience in those moments where the pain resurfaces. However, the mind will have you immediately thinking toward the future and how you will possibly get through the next difficult event, such as the New Year.
As the holidays creep upon us, I invite you to reflect on how you got through the funeral and all the other events that have taken place between the time of death and today. Somehow as human beings, we have this resilience, growth and determination to plod on, even when we’re uncertain of how that will look.
Elizabeth (Liz) Hides MSW, RSW, CT, CMMT is a grief specialist and owner of Healthy Directions in Calgary, Alberta. You can explore her grief care services at www.healthy-directions.ca