30 Aug Healthy Grieving During the Pandemic
Grief is often pushed aside quickly in American culture. You lose a loved one, you have a funeral or memorial service within a week and people go back to their regular schedules.
I’m sure most people reading this have lost one or many loved ones in their lifetime. Do you remember the “fog” you were in? Do you remember the disbelief you felt that the person died? Some people go into shock which is a way for the body to protect itself. These experiences are normal when a death occurs.
Then comes the time for the funeral or memorial service. Oh wait, it’s hard to have these during a pandemic! How does that affect the grieving process? And what can we do instead?
Funerals and Memorial Services Help with the Grieving Process
Funerals serve many purposes. They allow people to come together, from far and wide, to pay their last respects, support the immediate family and say their own goodbyes. Funerals are very important for loved ones who have not recently seen the person who has died. Remember the fog and disbelief I mentioned earlier? The emotional (and physical) pain of a death we experience can cause shock. The brain has difficulty accepting that a tragedy has occurred even though we are in physical pain, and we were told by another person we trust that our loved one has died.
Funerals and memorial services help people (and their brains) see and accept the truth. And seeing the truth allows your brain to come together with your heart in accepting the death has, in fact, occurred. For those from older generations, you may remember that some parents did not believe their son died in Vietnam because they could not see the body or have a funeral. Some parents even died still believing their son was a prisoner of war somewhere.
In 2020 and much of 2021, the world could not host memorial services to mourn or grieve their loved ones. I lost a very dear friend in early 2020, but there was no funeral. I’d seen him less than a month earlier and he was fine. To this day, I still have fleeting moments when I think that my friend will come visit me. I never got the experience of seeing him at a funeral and saying my goodbyes. Even though I KNOW he died, my brain has a hard time believing it without seeing it.
What to do?
I encourage everyone to make time to have their own memorial service. You can do this alone or with others. Have pictures out, tell stories about your loved one. Listen to other people’s stories about the person. It is ok to say, “I still don’t believe x person is dead.” The mind is tricky. When it hears words or sees pictures over and over, it can finally begin to believe that the event happened. Celebrate your loved ones, do something they loved to do in their honor. (Gardening, volunteering, tinkering with cars, playing with dogs, etc.). You can write them a letter (remember that it is for you after all, not them) and say whatever you wish. This helps you brain connect to your heart. It helps move you forward.
Best wishes for healthy grieving.
Monica McGannon, LCSW, CT, is a nationally certified grief counselor and the Vice President of Training at CHRIS 180. She can be reached at training@CHRIS180.org