I read recently that the nation’s top bereavement experts are petitioning to establish an Office of Bereavement Care in the White House. Our loss due to COVID-19 is such that it is resulting in an epic wave of grief. It is rare to find someone untouched by this loss, whether on a personal or communal level.
What exactly is bereavement? It is the process of coming to terms with a world that is no longer the same and can never fully return to its pre-loss state. And learning to write a new narrative. Someone, or something, is missing, and we are not the same.
Grief is a normal reaction to loss, and yet as a bereavement counselor I am often asked the following questions about grief: “Am I losing my mind?” “Am I mourning correctly?” and “When will it end?”
Grief can be exhausting, disorienting and leave you feeling as if you have been caught in the midst of a whirlwind. And the truth is you have. Your world has been turned upside down.
There is no one right way to grieve. Some people are more emotional grievers and find release in tears and benefit from talking with people. Others are more action-oriented and seek comfort in focusing on a memorial or donating to a charity in memory of a loved one. Some people grieve for a short time and others need more time.
“Closure” has become a popular word in our world of quick fixes, but to those who have experienced grief, closure is a myth. I often talk to people instead about the accommodation of grief. Like a wound that is initially painful, it eventually turns to a dull ache and with time is a faint scar that is only felt on certain occasions.
When you are grieving it is important to take good care of yourself. Getting enough sleep and eating properly is crucial to healing. Sometimes we feel compelled to be in a state of constant mourning in order to show love for the one we lost. It is OK to dose the pain and do something enjoyable. It will not dishonor your loved one.
While grief is a normal response to loss, it can be a lonely experience. This is not the time to be making major changes in your life. Find ways to connect with others and to reestablish routines that provide comfort and support.
There are times when grief requires intervention. If you feel you are unable to do the most basic of daily activities or several months have passed and you are unable to be distracted from your pain, let someone know. Sometimes a person is overwhelmed with feelings of guilt about a death. This is often seen in deaths related to COVID-19 as the suddenness and the inability to be present at the end complicates a person’s recovery.
Speaking to a trained professional can be helpful in the enhancement of resiliency. The role of a bereavement counselor is to allow a person the room to express their pain without the worry of having to protect someone from the intensity of their emotions. A therapist can provide feedback and guidance as you embark on this new and unasked-for journey. May you find comfort and growth along the path.
Anna Kirshblum, LCSW, has 30 years of experience counseling people struggling with trauma, depression and anxiety. She is a trained bereavement therapist. Anna is licensed in New Jersey and New York and sees clients online in her West Orange practice. Anna has spoken at professional conferences on bereavement and has a post master’s degree in spirituality and social Work. Anna can be reached at 973-449-0401 or at [email protected].