Due to COVID-19, losing a loved one may be more painful this year than usual. The pandemic stripped away the opportunity to say 'goodbye' due to restrictions put in place to help quell the spread of the disease. The cultural practices of visitation and formal funerals were denied to many families, leaving the usual much-needed step of the grieving process hanging in the balance, resulting in families experiencing a lack of closure.
Specifically, thinking about the significant loss of a death of a close relative can bring a mix of emotions and is experienced differently by each individual. Often, memories of family are looked back on with joy but can be filled with heartache after experiencing the loss of a mother, father, grandparent, child or other close relative.
In 2020 alone, there were a record 3.4 million deaths worldwide due to COVID-19. Death rates are rising to a new high, surpassing the flu pandemic of 1918, as reported in the New York Times. As a result, more individuals than ever are facing grief this year.
No doubt many individuals will be walking through life carrying the weight of grief, potentially for the first time. Those who lost their parents, child or close family member over a year ago are likely still walking through painful grief due to the lack of closure and support they typically would receive if COVID-19 guidelines did not prevent life celebrations, funerals and even travel.
In light of those factors, here are a few tips to consider whether it is you or someone you know who is grieving the loss of a loved one.
Acknowledge that it is not easy
First, it is key to realize it is normal to feel the weight of sorrow. There may be a flood of memories, overwhelming emotion, and potentially thoughts of regret. Validate what you are feeling, or if you are not the one grieving, help the individuals in your life who are by letting them sit through their sadness. Now, don't leave them alone, but refrain from saying things like, “you should be over it by now” or “why are you so closed off today?” We all handle our emotions differently, but acknowledging the missing piece of our life when we are reminded of what we once had is never easy.
Create new memories
While grieving is normal and even necessary, try not to sit in the past and dwell on what is missing. Make a new tradition that builds fresh memories and helps you not feel stuck in your grief. Creating new memories can give you something to look forward to that is positive and helps embrace the now and even look forward to the future. Be mindful of days that may trigger grief and how they may make you or people you are close to feel. Then, make fun plans ahead of time.
Reach out to others
A call, handwritten note, text message and especially a visit can go a long way. Be intentional and reach out to those you know who have lost a loved one. One of the best things you can do to help someone walking through the grieving process is to be a listening ear and show that you care. It is okay to feel nervous and not know what to say but remember that simply reaching out can truly make a difference.
If you are the one grieving, seek a community of those who know how you are feeling, and connect with family or friends that have experienced a similar loss. Finding a community that relates can be monumental. Talking with others who know exactly how you feel or what this process is like can help in healing. Join a group such as Griefshare that can support you and walk through the process with you; don’t do this on your own. Look for groups in your area online by searching for “grief support groups near me.” Being with others and sharing our emotions is a great way to combat sadness and overcome the hard days.
Embrace a heart of thankfulness. Try to shift the focus of sadness to one of gratitude by reflecting on happy memories or people you do have in your life. Grieving can be bittersweet because as we lose older generations, many of us enter the phase of our life or witness our spouses, sisters or friends bring the next generation into the world. Be thankful for the children that make you or a loved one a parent, and if it's not too painful, to express gratitude for the life your loved one had the chance to live.
Whether this is the first year or the 31st that you are facing life without a close family member, it is okay if this day brings sadness, especially understanding that the pandemic may have magnified the feeling of loss nationwide. Be mindful of those in your life and try to embrace a focus on gratitude.
Steve Grissom is the founder and president of Church Initiative, a ministry that develops Christ-centered resources that equip churches to help grieving and divorced people. Through Griefshare, a grief support group ministry, resources have been developed specifically to help churches minister to those whose grief has been caused or affected by COVID-19. Learn more at https://www.griefshare.org/covid.