Recently I spoke with my dear friend who lost her father to COVID this past September.  I had seen him just weeks before he passed at her birthday party, and he was vibrant and genuine.  This patriarch had been a father and friend to many in various ways over the years, and his loss rippled through layers of people.

My friend is moving forward but misses her dad every day.  She has been through disbelief, sadness, anger and several other emotions that are all encompassed in an overarching grief.  But what is grief?  And how do we get through it?

A psychology professor at University of Memphis, Robert A. Neimeyer, and a practicing psychologist, has made it his mission to understand grief.  He has worked with individuals, conducted research and written books about the grieving process.  He describes one of the purposes of grief as “the attempt to reaffirm or reconstruct a world of meaning that has been challenged by loss.”  

My friend and her family, and everyone that was touched by her dad, is trying to find meaning now that the world has changed.  

All of us can recognize losses we have experienced in our lives and the various ways we worked through our grief.  The grieving process is often thought of as painful and sad, full of questions and anger.  Sometimes, however, it can also bring moments of peace.

COVID has certainly brought grief to many of us through loss of family and friends.  But there is also loss over our changing work environments, financial stability, and regular daily lives.  In addition to the grief we are experiencing over the loss of loved ones, we are all also dealing with grief over the lives that we no longer live.  Lives without masks, without polarizing political views regarding COVID, without so many zoom calls!  We also miss our lives with fully staff restaurants, hugging, and travel without additional restrictions.  We are all attempting to reaffirm or reconstruct a world of meaning that has been challenged by loss.

So how do we handle this on-going, multi-layered pandemic grief, especially while we are still in the thick of it?

  • Ride the wave.  Acknowledge how the changes in the world are impacting you and your loved ones and normalize it.  We all experience grief differently at various times in our lives, depending on a multiple of variables.  Your experience is ok, even if it’s different from how others are experiencing it.  Recognize it and roll with it.
  • Celebrate your resiliency.  There will be times when we feel like we just can’t handle it, but it’s important to recognize all the things we have handled in the past, including this pandemic for almost 2 years!  Look at skills you have used in the past to handle difficult times and transfer them your current experience.  
  • Be kind and patient with yourself (and others).  Grief can be exhausting, especially when it is on-going and persistent.  Self-care, including good sleep and nutrition, social connections and spirituality, can go a long way to allowing grief to work its course.  And remember that we are all dealing with this pandemic grief in various ways, even the guy who is rude to you at the supermarket.  Kindness & patience can improve our mood and maybe someone else’s too.
  • Grief does not usually go in a straight line.  Grief can be chaotic and inconsistent.  One day you feel like “I got this,” and the next day, “I don’t know how to do this.”  Be prepared for this ups and downs and sometimes even circling back to where you were before.
  • Ask for help.  The more complicated grief is, the more support we may need to process it.  This may mean connecting with friends or a support group or possibly a therapist.  Most therapists are equipped to help deal with grief, although there are some that are experts in that area.  Asking for help is a sign of strength.  It means that we are aware of our limitations and open to making a connection to help us grow.  

Recognizing that we are not alone when it comes to grief can be very healing to our heads and our hearts.  It can help us realize that we are not alone in how we feels and in our experiences.  It can help us find new meaning in a changed world.  A world that is a better place for having a man like my friend’s father, Dr. Robert Monit.

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Jill Perry-Phillips, MS, NCC, LPC, CAADC, SAP

Jennifer Oaks, MS, LPC, CAADC, SAP

Hayley Shawger, MA, NCC, LPC

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Christina Bertocchini-Guay, MA, LPC

Krista Shae Lion, MA, LPC, NCC, CADC, SAP

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