The UnCOVID Post: Personal loss in the midst of global crisis
This is NOT a post about COVID 19. You’re welcome. :)
You are grieving the devastating loss of someone you love, and yet the entire world is only talking about the virus and possible economic disaster. I am not discounting the seriousness of this pandemic. But I want to acknowledge that your grief has not simply disappeared just because our community is distracted! How can you cope with deep grief when it seems like your feelings are being invalidated by the 24/7 mass media? Review the following action items carefully, then use the worksheet on the last page to create your own action plan.
Let’s break this down into 5 simple steps:
1. Basic needs:
Do you have a safe place to stay while social distancing? If you are feeling threatened by a friend or family member, or feeling like you do not want to go on living, please immediately text one word (examples: HELP, HOME, START, etc.) to the free Crisis Line: 741741. Within five minutes, you will be connected with a counselor who will provide immediate support, and then help you find local resources.
Do you have access to adequate food and clean water? If you are “sheltering in place,” you might be worried about empty grocery store shelves. Note that most communities have emergency options. My county is using school buses to provide food for families who typically qualify for free or reduced cost school meals. Contact your local health department for more information on resources.
2. Self soothing:
What can we control? Really the only thing we can control is our own response to what is going on. We can choose to focus on the negative, constantly worrying about the “what ifs” of our job status, our depleted retirement account, and our health. But will the worrying change the outcome? Of course not. Before the anxious thoughts threaten to take over, identify your own self-soothing techniques.
I am not talking about distractions like scrolling through social media, Netflix binging, or eating the entire pack of Oreos that you bought as quarantine snacks. I am also not talking about cliche self care, such as bubble baths and manicures. Those sorts of external distractions are fine when you just need to tune out.
Instead, ask yourself: what specifically makes you feel calm and relaxed, centered in your body, focused, and self aware? Effective self-soothing techniques often involve spiritual, physical, or creative practices. Once you identify which ones work well for you, they will be more readily available when you start to feel tense.
Take a deep breath in through your nose, as if you could completely fill your torso with air, then release it with a long slow exhale (repeat 3 times)
Grounding - press your feet into the floor, one at at time, then release
Sensory awareness - notice and name the aspects of your environment that you see, hear, taste, and smell, as well as any sensations on your skin (temperature, pressure etc.).
2. Spiritual practice: daily prayers or devotions, meditation, spend quiet time outdoors
3. Creative expression: music, art, writing, dance, yoga
3. Continuing Bonds:
Spend time daily with your loved one who died. You might think it is too painful to continue to interact with someone who has died. In fact, it is a very healthy way to maintain connections with your loved one. We really don’t need research to prove this point, but authors Klass, Silverman, and Nickman proposed the Continuing Bonds theory. This concept suggests that our attachment to the deceased, while no longer in physical form, is still vitally important to maintain over time.
Some examples of continuing bonds include speaking aloud to the person who died, writing them a letter, or keeping a special space in your home with mementos such as their photo, urn, or significant memory objects. I encourage you to include your loved one in your daily life, even if just for a few minutes and even if the interaction brings tears. Their life was important to you: find a way to tell them so, and honor that memory every chance you get.
4. Grief Buddy System:
Grief can feel isolating, and social distancing is only adding to that loneliness. Even if you are surrounded by your family because you are all stuck at home right now, you are likely not talking about your grief with them very often. We tend to downplay our grief with those closest to us, because we subconsciously want to protect them from those painful feelings. This is why a “grief buddy system” is so beneficial.
Do you have someone in your life that you can call or text anytime the grief feels overwhelming? The right person is someone who “gets it” and will offer kind words of support. You might have one or two grief friends who have experienced loss, or you might join an online grief support group. Think about the grief buddy system like an accountability partner that will help you stay on track when the grief feels especially overwhelming.
5. Daily Routine:
You are probably spending much more time at home than you normally do, and you might have your spouse and children with you as well. This change in routine can throw you off and cause even more anxiety. Predictable structure and routine helps us feel secure and gives us a sense of control.
The most helpful way to add structure to your day is to start and end your day with the same few comforting steps that we covered above. I also recommend starting your day with a positive intention or affirmation, then finishing your day with a brief reflection of gratitude. These routines will only take a few minutes, but will make a huge difference in how you feel about your day.
Have you noticed that our usual cultural expressions of sympathy and support have broken down in this time of crisis? Your neighbors are not reaching out to empathize with your loss, and social distancing means they are not bringing over casseroles and flowers. They probably can’t even attend the funeral or memorial service. It is hard not to feel resentment, when your life has changed so completely, and not due to the virus! I assure you that you are not alone in this experience.
Complete the Action Plan below to bring more stability to your life during this tumultuous time. Send me an email if you prefer a printable Google doc version.
Reach out to me today, and I will help connect you with resources to provide the support you need during your time of loss.
Brought to you by:
Pam Kuras, MSW, LCSW, GC-C
Johnston Integrative Counseling, PLLC
58 Old Roberts Rd, Benson NC 27504
Action Plan for Coping with Loss During a Global Crisis
1. Basic Needs
A. Do you have a safe place to live? YES
NO text 741741
B. Do you have adequate food and water? YES
NO call your local health dept
2. Self Soothing
List your top 3 favorite ideas for feeling calm and relaxed
3. Continuing Bonds
List your top 3 ways to connect with your loved one’s memory
4. Grief Buddy System
List 3 people/groups you connect with for grief support
5. Daily Routines
A. 10 minute Morning Routine:
Set positive intention for the day
Self-soothing technique (physical, spiritual, or creative)
Connect with loved one who died
Connect with grief buddy
B. Mid-day check-in:
1. Daily dose of news and social media limited to ____ minutes
2. Connect with grief buddy
C. 10 minute Bedtime Routine
Connect with loved one who died
Connect with grief buddy
Gratitude for the day
Self-soothing technique (physical, spiritual, or creative) quiet and relaxing, to prepare for sleep
For a printable copy of this worksheet, send me an email request: firstname.lastname@example.org