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Within the past year, it is very likely that you or someone you know has lost a loved one to COVID-19. Losses, especially those of our loved ones, may be one of life’s biggest challenges. These are usually accompanied by a variety of feelings, including anger, frustration, distress, and loneliness. Losing someone during the coronavirus pandemic, whether to COVID-19 or to other causes, is far more challenging and the feelings of grief are more pronounced. This is especially true since such an event causes a lot of uncertainty. The pandemic might have prevented you from saying goodbye in person or be present when your loved one passed away. Given the physical distancing restrictions, the funeral service might have also been hard for you.

Grief related to the death of a loved one is universal, yet a personal experience. In fact, the 5 Stages of Grief model identified by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross can be experienced in a different order and at different times. Although some people may follow the pattern outlined in the model, others may experience a few stages and re-visit a previous stage before moving forward. The initial stage is the denial stage, during which you experience feelings of disbelief and try to deny the reality that such an event occurred. This is followed by the second stage characterised by feelings of anger and frustration towards others where you end up blaming others for the loss of your loved one, or even the person who died for leaving you. During the third stage, you may try to prevent permanent loss by bargaining with someone else, usually by making a major life change. Eventually, this may lead to depression where you may begin to withdraw from others and try to deal with the feelings alone. This is usually accompanied by physical symptoms such as headaches, stomach aches or unexplained pain. Acceptance, which characterises the final stage of the process, is accomplished when you are able to acknowledge the effects of the loss and reflect upon what the person meant to you.

As overwhelming as they may feel, the stages discussed above may be a necessary part of your healing journey. Although grief over the loss of a loved one is an ongoing response to loss, there are still ways that help cope with it:

  • Recognise that some things are outside of our control and focus on the things we can control.
  • Seek support from people you trust through the use of phone and video calling technology which offer the possibility to stay connected.
  • Honour your loved one by virtually reciting a poem, spiritual reading, or a prayer with family and friends within your own households.
  • Develop a virtual memory book, a blog, or webpage filled with photos and stories of your loved one.
  • Participate in activities that are significant to you and the loved one who died. Creative activities, such as art, music or writing are also helpful.
  • Develop a daily routine involving health sleep habits, a healthy diet and regular exercise as it provides a sense of purpose.

If grief persists and is affecting you so much that it is hindering your ability to carry out daily functions, seek professional support through a counsellor or therapist.

Johanna Cutajar is a Master in Counselling graduate from the University of Malta. She works with children and adolescents as a counsellor within the education sector on a variety of issues including relationship issues, trauma, bereavement, transitions, and general mental health.

References

Buckley, D. (2021). Understanding the Stages of Grief. Retrieved from https://www.betterhelp.com/advice/grief/understanding-the-stages-of-grief/

Edward-Emhurst Health (2021). Grieving the Loss of a Loved One to COVID-19. Retrieved from https://www.eehealth.org/blog/2021/02/covid-19-loss-of-loved-one/