Trauma, Grief, and Loss in the Pandemic Recovery
All of us have experienced a sense of loss during the COVID19 pandemic, some more than others. Grief is a normal response to loss after a disaster or other traumatic event. Grief can occur after the loss of life, as well as to sudden changes to daily routines and ways of life that usually bring us comfort and a feeling of stability.
Common grief reactions include:
- Shock, disbelief, or denial
- Periods of sadness
- Loss of sleep and loss of appetite
Some people may experience multiple losses during a large-scale emergency event. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, you might be unable to be with a loved one when they die, or unable to mourn someone’s death in-person with friends and family.
According to the CDC, Other types of loss include unemployment, not making enough money, loss or reduction in support services, and other changes in your lifestyle. These losses can happen at the same time, which can complicate or prolong grief and delay a person’s ability to adapt, heal, and recover.
People cope with losses in different ways. Grieving the loss of a loved one while coping with the fear and anxiety related to the COVID-19 pandemic can be especially overwhelming. Social distancing, “stay-at home-orders,” and limits on the size of in-person gatherings have changed the way friends and family can gather and grieve, including holding traditional funeral services, regardless of whether or not the person’s death was due to COVID-19.
Actions you can take, include:
- Connecting with other people
- Creating memories or rituals
- Asking for help from others
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the family and close friends of a person who died of COVID-19 may experience stigma such as social avoidance or rejection. Stigma hurts everyone by creating fear or anger towards other people. Some people may avoid contacting you, your family members, and friends when they would normally reach out to you. Stigma related to COVID-19 is less likely to occur when people know the facts and share them with extended family, friends, and others in your community.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, you may feel grief due to loss of a job; inability to connect in-person with friends, family or religious organizations; missing special events and milestones (such as graduations, weddings, vacations); and experiencing drastic changes to daily routines and ways of life that bring comfort. You may also feel a sense of guilt for grieving over losses that seem less important than loss of life. Grief is a universal emotion; there is no right or wrong way to experience it, and all losses are significant.
Here are some ways to cope with feelings of grief:
- Acknowledge your losses and your feelings of grief. Find ways to express it.
- Consider developing new rituals in your daily routine to stay connected with your loved ones to replace those that have been lost.
- Try to stay in the present and focus on aspects of your life that you have control over right now.
What about kids? Children may show grief differently than adults. They may have a particularly hard time understanding and coping with the loss of a loved one. Sometimes children appear sad and talk about missing the person or act out. Other times, they play, interact with friends, and do their usual activities. As a result of COVID-19safety measure, they may also grieve over loss of routines such as going to school and playing with friends. Parents and other caregivers play an important role in helping children process their grief.
To support a child who may be experiencing grief:
- Ask questions to determine the child’s emotional state and better understand their perceptions of the event.
- Give children permission to grieve by allowing time for children to talk or to express thoughts or feelings in creative ways.
- Provide age and developmentally appropriate answers.
- Practice calming or coping strategies with your child.
- Take care of yourself and model coping strategies for your child.
- Maintain routines as much as possible.
- Spend time with your child, reading, coloring, or doing other activities they enjoy.
Signs that children may need additional assistance include changes in their behavior (such as acting out, not interested in daily activities, changes in eating and sleeping habits, persistent anxiety, sadness, or depression).
Speak to your child’s healthcare provider if troubling reactions seem to go on too long, interfere with school or relationships with friends or family, or if you are unsure of or concerned about how your child is doing. Need a therapist? Contact me at SHCS.