Coping with Personal Loss During the COVID-19 Pandemic: Help for the Grieving
by David Lautzenheiser
Personal loss can be emotionally devastating when life is somewhat normal—but loss during a pandemic can magnify emotions, loneliness, and feelings that become very hard to describe. Everyone is experiencing some kind of personal emotions due to this current pandemic situation. In the past few weeks while trying to maneuver through the changes this virus has created in our lives for the body of believers at Christ’s Church, three special individuals, connected to our church, have died—days within each other. Though not everyone had a personal connection to these three individuals, the impact of this loss has a cumulative effect on the members in our congregation. This personal loss compounds what we are already feeling during the COVID-19 pandemic. This creates the question: “How do we walk through loss during this time of pandemic when we can no longer come together to mourn the loss of these loved ones?” The following thoughts are based on my experience as a certified Grief Recovery Specialist.
It’s Normal to Grieve
First, it is important to define grief. Grief is often misunderstood. Simply stated: Grief is the natural reaction to loss of any kind. Yes, it feels terrible! Yes, you may feel like your heart is broken! Yes, you may find it difficult to focus, but it is important to remember that whatever the feeling, it is normal. This is grief and the feelings are unique to you. While we all experience and feel the pain of loss, those feelings are unique to you and comparing your loss to another’s loss is not helpful and can be hurtful to you on an emotional level. So, try not to compare what you are going through to what someone else may be going through in this difficult time.
Second, grief is the conflicting feelings caused by the end or change in a familiar pattern of behavior. That definition really hits home during this coronavirus, doesn’t it? We were living lives with the freedom to work, travel, dine out, and worship together when suddenly—overnight—it abruptly stopped. This change in familiar pattern of behavior causes the feeling of loss and then through the media we discover that this virus can be fatal. We watch and listen as the statistics rise for those who have lost their lives to this virus. Again, the “feelings” from this change of norm create the feeling of loss within us.
Third, another factor in this definition is the loss of “hopes, dreams, and expectations.” When these elements are not realized in our lives then we experience loss. Think of the seniors in high school who were eagerly anticipating a traditional graduation ceremony—gone. Grandparents spending time with out-of-state grandchildren—not happening. Family spring break trips and vacations cancelled. The list goes on. And the social isolation, while important to stop the spread of the virus, leads to loneliness and that leads to the feeling of loss and grief.
Grief on Top of Grief
Then in the midst of dealing with this loss, our loved one dies. Matters are made worse because we may not have been able to spend final days with them. Think of the individual dying of cancer in a nursing home, until the final hours, with visits being conducted through windows. No hugs, no kisses, no personal touch. This is a change in familiar pattern of behavior for the family and the loss of hopes, dreams, and expectations of the final days are not what one expected. The pandemic has changed what we expected in these final days.
What about the loved one confined to his home, also dying of cancer, with visits from a hospice care worker keeping him comfortable? The social isolation prevents friends from spending time at his bedside while he is dying. Then when he dies, friends cannot be present for a memorial service; only limited numbers of family can attend the graveside service. Imagine this feeling of loss during a pandemic.
Finally, a young mother unexpectedly dies leaving a grieving husband and a confused, grieving little boy. Her involvement with the church as a worship leader makes her a “public figure,” yet the church can’t physically be present to comfort the grieving family and comfort each other with the loss they are feeling. The pandemic has taken away the traditions we share when grieving the loss of a loved one.
These three illustrations create a loss of hopes, dreams, expectations, and changes in familiar patterns of behavior. In the midst of the feelings of grief during the pandemic these additional losses add on more pain and emotional turmoil.
As difficult as loss is, a couple of factors may bring us some encouragement. Remember that grief is a normal part of our life experience. Grief is emotional, not intellectual. As people of faith, we are encouraged to hide God’s Word in our hearts for a time such as this. God’s Word, the Bible, is the rock and the foundation to keep us grounded. Perhaps you have a favorite Scripture you fall back on in times of trouble, such as John 3:16 or Psalm 23. Mine is 1 Corinthians 2:9, “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him” (NKJV). But as vital as it is to have this faith element, this knowledge of faith is intellectual. This spiritual foundation definitely helps us, but when our hearts are broken due to loss, the feeling is completely emotional. Simply put, it hurts. We feel the emotional pain of loss, we believe, we pray, but we still hurt.
So, what do we do when we are hurting because of personal loss during this abnormal coronavirus situation? There are several key things I would highly suggest.
- Talk to Someone
Grievers need to be heard. They need to share their personal story. Short of participating in grief counseling this is a huge step relieving some of the emotional pain. Talk to someone. In this time of isolation, call on the phone, or meet in a parking lot to visit with a friend where you can still keep a social distance. Video chat if that works for you. The bottom line is you just need to be heard. You don’t even need your friend to give you advice. Truthfully, they shouldn’t. That’s not usually helpful to you. You just need to pour out your heart to someone who will listen with compassion and love.
- Get Outside and Enjoy God’s Creation
Pray, meditate, walk, and calm your soul. This is not about suppressing your feelings or broken heart but rather giving yourself a “pause,” a time to lift your spirits. It’s amazing how the sun in your face can give you a bit of joy in an emotionally trying time.
- Participate in Something You Enjoy Each Day
Do something that brings a moment of joy. Maybe that is sending a card to someone who needs encouraging, maybe it is writing an email or a text. Encourage someone else. Maybe it is a hobby such as gardening, memorizing Scripture, dusting off a talent that you haven’t used for a while. These activities are not meant to replace the loss or to suppress what you are truly feeling, but they can help lift your spirits, if even for a few moments. If you feel that you simply cannot move forward with your feelings of loss, then reach out and talk to a Grief Recovery Specialist or counselor.
I find this Scripture verse very comforting:
“When you go through deep waters, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown. When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you” (Isaiah 43:2, NLT).
This is an emotionally challenging time due to the pandemic and when you add additional loss to that, it can feel overwhelming. Remember that grief is completely emotional, and we can be affected in so many different ways. Most of all, remember that you are not alone!
David Lautzenheiser is pastor of senior adult ministries and pastoral care, and a certified Grief Recovery Specialist at Christ’s Church, Mason.