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Grief and loss in the pandemic

First slide

The social distancing and uncertainty we all face daily due to COVID-19 is an ongoing struggle, but for many there are additional wounds and heartaches to be navigated. Prior to the pandemic, when a loved one was nearing the end of their life, we had the ability to be present in their final moments. We were able to gather as friends and family to mourn their passing. We were able to support one another as we began the long process of healing. Sadly, these opportunities may no longer be options as the elderly are quarantined, hospitals restrict visitors and family are not able to attend funerals. But we must grieve in order to begin to heal. What are some ways in which we can grieve during these troubling times? 

Accept what is real

Difficult as it may be, we must recognize the reality of our situation. This may feel like a bad dream, one that we hope we’ll collectively wake up from, but denying what is true only makes things worse. We must accept not just the pain of the loss, but also the hurt and sadness that comes from not being able to be present. And it is OK to acknowledge the awfulness of the entire situation. We are allowed to be angry or sad that the pandemic prevents us from being with our loved ones. We are allowed to feel our own feelings.

Process the loss

When considering grief, we ought to be aware that there are two types of loss —  the loss of the specific and the loss of potential. Loss of the specific is recognizing that a person we love is now gone. It is the space their passing leaves in our hearts. Loss of the potential means that we must grieve all the things we hoped to do with the person in the future that are now no longer possible. This might be recognizing that all our Christmases will look different now that our loved one has died. Or after the death of a child, the sorrow at not being able to see that child years later on the day of their wedding or ordination. We must be able to grieve both the specific and potential losses to fully process and heal.

Ways to cope

After a loss, the temptation is often to withdraw emotionally or isolate from others. Due to social distancing, isolating is the norm in many situations. However, we need to reach out to others rather than remain alone with our grief. Reaching out to loved ones and friends gives us an opportunity to talk things over and share our sorrow. We can cope better with loss when we realize that we are not alone. Finally, we want to turn to prayer. We can find strength and consolation in our faith, remembering that Christ promised a life everlasting.

Be patient

In moments of despair, we can forget that the current situation will change; the pandemic will end. Keep that in mind. Find ways to remember and honor the life of your loved ones now, but also make a plan of what you will do after the stay-at-home orders are lifted. One day soon, we will have an opportunity to pray beside a final resting place or return to the location of a joyful shared memory, or fulfill a promise made during a last conversation. Until that day, we can pray for the repose of the soul of our dearly departed, and for the comfort and consolation of our loved ones, remembering always that God is with us.

Horne is director of clinical services for diocesan Catholic Charities.

 Find out more

To make a teletherapy appointment with a Catholic Charities counselor, call 703/425-0109 or 540/371-1124.




© Arlington Catholic Herald 2020