As the COVID-19 pandemic spreads, many people are experiencing the weight of loss. Loss comes in many forms and includes any significant change in one’s life that creates a void to which one has to adapt. This includes the tragic loss of a loved one, the life changing sudden loss of a job, and immediate shift in lifestyle triggered by quarantine and social distancing. Grief is the normal emotional response to this void in one’s life as a consequence of the loss.
As a clinician, many patients often find it comforting to know that grief is a normal and healthy emotional response to loss. It is part of the human condition experienced by individuals globally across cultures, ethnicities, race, religions. While one may feel isolated in the depths of overwhelming grief, you are not alone because most individuals know loss. When you share your experience, you will likely find someone who experienced a deep loss and can provide empathy.
There is also comfort in having a guide to the emotional landscape of grief. In 1969 Elizabeth Kubler-Ross presented such a guide in her book On Death and Dying in which she introduced the 5 stages of grief.
Denial – This is a temporary defense in which the individual has difficulty accepting the reality of the loss. Instead, the person protects themselves by denying their emotional response to the loss or the reality of the loss that occurred.
Anger– The individual assigns blame and targets their anger to the source or sources of blame. They experience jealousy and envy of others that do not have the loss. The focus is on the unfairness and injustice.
Bargaining– The individual seeks to restore control by acknowledging their loss but making attempts to mitigate their circumstance with changes to their lifestyle, behavior, sacrificing future gains, making promises, etc. This can involve pleading to higher power but can involves other individuals as well.
Depression– This stage involves facing the gravity of the loss. The individual experiences the deep sadness triggered by the loss. They ruminate on what they have lost, how their life has changed due to the loss, experience difficulty with continuing with their life. Often this mirrors symptoms of clinical depression, although grief is triggered by a specific loss.
Acceptance– This stage involves the individual coming to terms with the loss. The individual resolves to make meaning from the loss and find ways to continue with life.
These stages are not linear. Individuals may find that they do not experience these emotions in this order or move back and forth through different stages as their grief resolves. One can turn to trusted friends or family, seek the support of a counselor, psychologist, or support group as they process this difficult experience. Grief is a natural part of the human condition. It is overwhelming and painful, but you are not alone.
If you are supporting someone with is experiencing grief, be patient, supportive, validate their emotions experience- do not tell them not to feel a certain emotion even if you are just trying to help. Certain stages like Anger or Depression may be particularly uncomfortable and difficult to witness but are necessary and important parts of the experience of grief. Often people experiencing grief are overwhelmed with their emotions and feel badly about “burdening” others with their powerful emotions. Provide support, a listening ear, a friendly laugh, a focused activity, a gentle coax, encouraging words, and consider providing counseling resources to assist the individual in coping.
If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide please contact 911. You can also call the suicide lifeline at 1 800 273 8255 as a resource.