Navigating Grief During COVId-19

By Shawna Johnson & Maureen Horgan, members of the COVID-19 Community Well-being and Resilience Team

The COVID-19 pandemic may be introducing new layers of loss – social isolation, disrupted routines and cancelled future plans, financial strain, illness, and perhaps death – to everyday life. On top of COVID-19 and its varying effects, you may be feeling loss and pain as you process the continued harm and injustice to Black communities. Experiencing or realizing the layers of oppression and systemic racism communities are facing within this ongoing pandemic is painful, complex, and full of grief. Grief is the response you have to losses in your life, and it is as unique as the individual experiencing it. No one else has the same emotional and physical connection, or story linked to the experience of your losses.

You may be feeling a variety of feelings as well as experiencing these losses in different ways. Grief is complex and unique – and during COVID-19, even more so. Below are strategies and suggestions to consider as we navigate this complex time.

Grief looks different for everyone

Experiencing, feeling, and integrating your grief is essential for your physical and emotional well-being. Your grief response is also unique to you and can have a variety of physical and emotional signs. It’s not unusual to experience:

  • Feeling extremely sad, angry, disconnected, or numb
  • Physical symptoms such as exhaustion, changes in digestion, forgetfulness, shortness of breath, aches and pains
  • Inability to sleep or sleeping more than normal
  • Avoiding things and people that remind you of your loss
  • Recalling other losses you may have experienced
  • Questioning if the loss is real or what could have done differently

Connect to yourself and others

Many of the typical ways of grieving have likely been put on pause due to COVID-19. Right now, we aren’t able to grieve communally within churches or synagogues, or in the comforting embrace of friends and family. Our ways of honoring and witnessing each other have changed. These shifts may impact your grieving process. The following suggestions may help you cope:

  • Name and claim your feelings. Grief often comes with emotions that may be confusing or distressing. All of your feelings are okay and must be experienced in your own way. It doesn’t follow a process or schedule. Be gentle and patient with yourself as grief and all of its layers unfold.
  • Keep self-care simple. Grief can be exhausting, remember to rest and attend to basic needs.
  • Talk, write, sing, pray, or move in your experiences of loss. Identify activities that bring you comfort and joy.
  • Celebrate and reflect. Cook a family meal, create an altar or memorial to honor and remember your loved one. Call others to check in and share in this experience.
  • Practice deep breathing or another grounding activity. Deep breaths allow us to not only hold the pain but to process. Our breath connects us to our feelings and experiences.
  • Connect with others who are grieving. Gathering virtually with others who are grieving to discuss and share experiences can be healing.
  • Ask for help if you feel overwhelmed. Remember, you are not alone, support is available. If you or someone you know are struggling with sadness, distress or finding assistance, consider these resources.

Get additional grief support

Grieving is never easy and during times of COVID-19 can seem even more complex. In the experience of your grief, you will change and grow. There are many resources to support you along the way:

  • Red Cross Virtual Family Assistance – The American Red Cross has a variety of crisis counselors and spiritual care providers to assist you or someone you know that is dealing with a family member’s death due to COVID-19. Connect with the Red Cross immediately by calling 833-492-0094 or requesting a call from them. Language services for non-English speaking callers are available.
  • The Healing Center – The Healing Center is a grief-support community for adults, children and families. Call (206) 523-1206 or for more information.
  • Providence Grief Services – Support groups available at certain locations. Search for a location or call (206) 749-7702 to learn more.
  • Grief Share – Grief recovery support groups meet weekly and around the clock. Visit or join a group at any time. You can also sign up to receive a Grief Share daily email for added support during the recovery process. 
  • The Compassionate Friends – Provides comfort, hope, and support to families experiencing the death of a child. Online support and private Facebook groups available. Call (206) 241-1139 to learn more.
  • Safe Crossings Program – Safe Crossings is a program for children and teens who are facing or have experienced the death of someone significant in their lives. Seasonal events as well as virtual support groups are available. For more information contact Safe Crossings Program at 206-749-7723.
  • Art with Heart – Provides art activities and expert video that use creative expression to help kids process their feelings during the grief journey.

The COVID-19 pandemic is changing our world and each of us. During times of COVID-19 and beyond, let’s do what we can to stay safe, connected, and strong. Together, we can get through.

Originally posted 6/11/20