The current global crisis brought on by COVID-19 has, of course, impacted every member of the University of Michigan community and we at CAPS acknowledge the profound influence it is having and will continue to have on our collective future. That said, a grief response is an entirely expectable and typical reaction, and in any endless number of ways. In fact, the “loss” is staggering and the expression “the whole world has changed” is not entirely inaccurate. And yet in important ways as psychological wellness goes, it is essential to bear in mind that “things” will get back to a “new normal” which likely will resemble daily aspects of life that we miss more than we might imagine.
Simultaneously, it is important to honor the significant and in many instances painful felt sense of one’s whole university “home base” being effectively transformed overnight into a virtual one. And while the U of M you know, love, and hold in your mind right now is helpful comfort, losses such as saying good-bye to friends, end-of-year rituals, celebrations in and on the physicality of our campus community, moving out of residence halls or apartments, returning home sooner than expected, are all worthy of our attention and care.
We sometimes talk about “ambiguous loss” as one way to name the deep, pit-in-stomach, feeling of dread when we worry about one’s self or one’s loved one contracting the disease, financial or employment-related uncertainty, educational and medical system strain, exposed and pre-existing social and class inequities, the vulnerability of the social fabric, xenophobic trends, or any number of seemingly ceaseless things to obsess and panic over. And we are of “the community” in the global sense. We must emphasize that in a time when “intersections” are critical to understanding common life, who we are in our multiple social roles and histories interacts with the trauma of the pandemic. So many among us were already carrying painful stories and experiences and a time like this can make this “grief-upon-grief” even heavier. This is a time when we can become trauma-sensitive and aware in the radical sense.
Grieving in a “Socially Distant” Culture
Losing A Loved One
- Coping With Grief
- Likely you are overwhelmed and that’s OK. In fact, and even as you take good care, your job right now in part is to “be where you are” with your own experience of this moment. Regimenting self-care and self-compassion will make all the difference in the long run, and so will many other coping strategies including:
- Practice Self-Care
- Don’t try to attempt regaining normalcy and routine in the face of crisis. Instead, focus on meeting your basic needs by eating well, staying hydrated, and getting enough sleep.
- Alternate between activities that are related to the loss (e.g. looking through photos of your loved one, thinking about your lost job or financial insecurity, etc.) and restorative activities, such as planning for the future, spending time on your hobbies or trying new things. This is based on the “dual-process model” of coping with grief.
- So much may feel outside of your control. It is important to focus on what you can control and let go of what you cannot control. You can stay inside, you can keep a safe distance, you can wash your hands, you can wear a mask, etc.
- Staying Present
- Much of our grief may come from anticipating negative or scary outcomes. Meditation, mindfulness and grounding exercises help bring our mind to the present moment. Try a guided imagery exercise, progressive muscle relaxation, diaphragmatic breathing or a grounding exercise.
- Connection Through Technology
- Yes, those quirky video meet-ups with friends and family can help. We may have been struggling to cope with the vitriol of the social and political environment in this connected social world, but we certainly can make use of this technological capability to maintain vital and life-sustaining social contact and exchange now.
- Your Pace
- Recognize that the Acceptance stage of processing grief takes time, does not happen in a predictable way and may take longer for some of us than others. Allow yourself time to work through the pain of loss, and don’t rush yourself.
- Ask For Help
- If you are struggling to deal with grief alone, talking to a mental health professional might help. CAPS continues to provide counseling services during the COVID-19 crisis; for more information click here.
In the midst of grief, that this event has generated creativity and generosity is impossible to deny. In this meaning-making and community we can see the resilience we are born with. And so it’s helpful to hold in mind that inasmuch as things are bad right now as we continue to encounter grief, “we” are surviving. That another window of exposure has opened onto gross injustices and daily suffering that precede the outbreak gives us pause at CAPS as we attend to our social justice mission, and with the resilience gleaned from Gratitude for all who are rising to the occasion all over the world right now as we find new ways to connect.