As I sit in my home office (that I now actually use for that purpose), I am thinking about people who are grieving during this time. Now a days, I have a very quiet house with the exception of when my dog hears something to disturb his workday nap. I think about how different it would be for me if the COVID-19 crisis had happened when my now adult children were young children. My first husband died when our children were 4 years-old and 9 months-old. Frankly, some days getting out of the house and being around other people was my biggest coping strategy (not to mention being able send the girls to school or go to the YMCA while they played in its childcare center). Going to our grief groups or just connecting with our friends was so important to us. What happens when we cannot use some of those reliable coping mechanisms while grieving?
People who are grieving have already had their worlds upended by loss and now it is upended again. Those grieving may slowly be adjusting to a “new normal” and now there is a major disruption in routine. Parents may worry that their children will fall more behind in school if they are already struggling because of a loss. Families who have already been hit hard financially due to a death may now face additional financial struggles with layoffs or depleted savings. Children and teens are also missing sports, clubs, and hanging with friends – all of which can be helpful. Widows and single parents can feel overwhelmed by the 24/7 responsibility and now they may be trying to work and homeschool solo without relief throughout the day. Grandparents that were serving as the primary caregiver for children may now have to be isolated.
Because of isolation, people may turn to the news and social media to feel more connected. However, the 24/7 news cycle and social media posts about the virus may add additional stress to those who are grieving. Both children and adults may be triggered by images and the talk of death online and on television. For families already struggling with loss, the COVID-19 crisis adds more stress and uncertainty. Those of us in the bereavement community are trying to change the phrase from “social distancing” to “physical distancing.” We need social connection now more than ever. Reaching out to online grief groups and scheduling FaceTime or Zoom meetings with family and friends can help break up the isolation.
However, virtual connections do not work for more practical matters and events. My mother-in-law died in January and my husband had planned to help his sister clean out their mom’s house and now that is on hold. People have to adjust plans last minute and the uncertainty of what is next may be the most difficult part of the crisis. Children and teens may be missing graduations, proms, and spring break trips. These events may be all the more important to children and teens who are grieving as they were something to look forward to. On the other hand, they may be relieved to not have to experience these events without their loved-one. Either way, we can validate these feelings and know they may change frequently.
I have no easy answers, just suggestions. For those grieving, be gentle and forgiving with yourself. If you have children, be the same with them while keeping some kind of routine and expectation. Reach out to your support circle virtually and take care of yourself. See some tips below for those who are grieving and for those who are supporting people who are grieving.
For those grieving:
- Connect virtually with those who support you.
- Be patient with yourself. No one has this figured out.
- Answer children’s question honestly. Let them know all the things your family is doing to keep safe.
- Go outside and play…yes everyone…go for walks, ride bikes, and play games with one another. Schedule some outside time daily.
- Limit media for you AND your children. Try to check in with news once a day as you feel the need to be informed.
- Remind yourself (and your children) that this is temporary. Make a list and plan for the things you would want to do when the crisis is over.
- Validate children and teens’ disappointment at all the secondary losses.
- Plan your week with self-care involved. This may be very hard with young children, but instead of doing laundry during naptime plan to read, nap, or try virtual yoga.
- Share stories and look at pictures of the person who died, but then plan to do something fun afterwards. You can go for a walk or cook together. Make sure you do not overwhelm yourself or family members during this time.
- You may find journaling helpful. Adult coloring may be more your speed to have some calm down time at night instead of reading the news.
- Reach out for help if you feel overwhelmed. Many mental health providers are offering tele-mental health services.
Georgia Crisis and Access Line: 1-800-715-4225
Text Crisis Line: text “Home” to 741741
For other resources:
Supporting others who are grieving:
- Check in regularly with calls and texts.
- Schedule FaceTime or Zoom meetings.
- Send gift cards for food delivery and groceries.
- Take time to write a card or a letter.
- If you know someone struggling financially, try to help if you can. Offer to cover one expense, for a couple of months.
For now, I will continue planning support for Kate’s Club families while practicing physical distancing. I know this will pass and we will all be together again.
Wishing you love and peace,
Lane Hendricks (Pease), Director of Programs