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Grief in the times of an extended pandemic

Grief is a common and natural response to loss. It’s an emotional turmoil that can feel overwhelming.

Post by on Friday, May 28, 2021

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Pooja Priyamwada


Grief is a common and natural response to loss. It’s an emotional turmoil that can feel overwhelming.


The second wave of COVID-19 has overwhelmed all of us with grief. Although there can be no blue prints to handle grief, a general understanding of what grief is, what to expect, and what can restore a sense of normalcy, hope and relief can mitigate a lot of mental health related suffering.


Is grief only about death?


Grief is not just about the death of a loved one. Any loss can cause grief. Loss of a relationship, loss of health, loss of work/job, loss of a dream, sometimes even change of place can also lead to grief. 

Grief is a process, not an event. And you may experience all kinds of difficult and unexpected emotions while navigating it. These can range from shock to anger, from disbelief to guilt, and of course overwhelming sadness or numbness too. The pain of grief can often also disrupt physical health, affect sleep, appetite, or even basic cognitive responses. These are all “normal” reactions to loss, the more intense or sudden the loss, the more intense can grief be.

Coping with the loss of someone to death of a loved one is a huge challenge though grief can also happen in other life-situations like divorce or relationship breakup, loss of health or job, loss of financial stability, a miscarriage or abortion, retirement, death of a pet or plant, loss of a friendship, loss of safety after a trauma or in a disaster and many such experiences that all humans go through in a lifetime.


The grieving process

Grieving is universal and yet a subjective experience therefore there’s no right or wrong way to go through grief. How someone grieves depends on a lot of factors like someone’s personality and coping style, their life experiences, their faith and support systems, and how significant the loss was to them.

But grief is not strictly just an emotional process, it often involves physical issues. This means that people in grief can often also experience physical symptoms like fatigue, nausea, lowered immunity, weight loss or weight gain, aches and pains and sleep and appetite related issues.

The grieving process takes variable time for each person. Healing can’t be forced or hurried—and there is no universal timetable for grieving. Most people start to feel better in a few weeks or months. For others the grieving process can even last several years. 


Myths and Facts about Grief

Myth: The pain of grief will go away faster if you make an effort to ignore it.

Fact: When you ignore the pain, it can come back or resurface stronger at a later stage. In order to heal, it is necessary to face the grief and actively deal with it.


Myth: One must “be strong” in the face of loss and grief.

Fact: Feeling weak, sad, scared, or lonely is a normal reaction to loss and grief. Crying doesn’t mean someone is weak. By putting on a “brave front” when you are feeling otherwise is damaging to not just you but others who care for you too. Showing your true feelings can be useful.


Myth: If someone doesn’t cry, it means they are not feeling grief about the loss.

Fact: Crying is a common and normal response to sadness, but it’s not the only or the only “correct” one. People who don’t cry may feel the pain just as deeply as others, but maybe have a different way to express and process it. 


Myth: Grieving should last about a xyz period and time heals.

Fact: While grief does get better for most with time, there can be no specific time frame for grieving. This varies from person to person.


Myth: If someone grieving moves on from grief it means they have forgotten the loss.

Fact: Moving on means that person has accepted the loss—but that doesn't mean them forgetting it. They move on in life with the memory of the loss and it no longer causes them severe distress but can also be a source of solace, strength or nostalgia.


How to deal with the grieving process

If you are the one grieving there are certain ways to handle it better and move on with your life. The beginning can be done by acknowledging your pain, accepting that grief can trigger many different and unexpected emotions. It is also important to understand that your grieving process will be unique so never compare it with the grieving process of another even if you two might be grieving for the same person or same loss. You must support yourself emotionally by taking care of yourself physically. Please seek help if you feel overwhelmed with feelings of grief and try to understand the difference between depression and grief.


What to say and what not: An appropriate language of grief 

When you are in grief or you are trying to be supportive to someone in grief it is important to use appropriate and sensitive language, otherwise often what we say to support them can often cause them more hurt or despair. 

We must always remember that no two people are the same, no two losses are the same. So don’t say phrases beginning with “I understand…” or “I know…” instead say “I can only imagine…”, “I can feel that….”

Never say “It will get easier.” Someone who is grieving is often overwhelmed but when someone is in the deep, dark hole of grief, they just want you to acknowledge the pain. So, validate what and how they are feeling, don't try to take them immediately into the future.

Living an honest, long life doesn't diminish the pain of the loss. no matter the deceased’s age, the hurt and pain could also be unbearable.  So don’t say things like at least they lived long, in fact all phrases beginning with “at least” must be avoided. Instead, you can share memories, reminisce about their life.

A griever thinks, “I want to cry, I need to cry, I can’t be strong.”  We all grieve in our own way – some people will cry others won’t. There is no right or wrong way, and however someone is grieving they should feel supported to cry as much as they want to, and not feel they are being judged for it.   


Seek Support for your grief

Having the support of other people is vital to healing from loss and grief. Turn to friends and family members. Often, people want to assist but don’t have those skills, so tell them what you would like and what they can do for you—whether it’s a shoulder to cry on, help with funeral arrangements. Accept that many people feel awkward when trying to comfort someone who’s grieving. They may feel unsure about how to comfort and end up saying or doing the wrong things. Forgive them, tell them what hurts you so that they avoid saying that in the future.

A lot of people can draw comfort from their faith. Spiritual activities—such as praying, meditating, or going to a religious place—can offer solace to some. As long as it is a positive coping strategy let them indulge in this.

Join a support group. Grief can feel very lonely, whereas sharing your sorrow with others who have experienced similar losses can help. Last but not the least talk to a helpline, therapist or grief counselor. If your grief feels like too much to bear, find a mental health professional with experience in grief counseling. 

Sometimes memorial pages on Facebook and other social media sites allow friends and loved ones to post their own tributes or condolences. Reading such messages can often provide comfort for those grieving the loss. Taking care of yourself as you grieve, looking after your physical and emotional needs will help you surf through this difficult time.

Acknowledge the pain. If you try to avoid feelings of sadness and loss it can sometimes prolong the grieving process. Such unresolved grief can also lead to complications such as depression, anxiety, substance dependence, and other unhealthy coping mechanisms which can cause overall health issues.

If you are the creative one you can try to write about your loss in a journal. If you’ve lost a loved one, write a letter saying the things you never got to say; make a scrapbook or photo album celebrating the person’s life; or get involved in a cause or organization that was important to your loved one.

Don’t let anyone tell you how to feel about your loss, and don’t tell yourself how to feel either. Your grief is your own journey, let yourself feel whatever you feel without embarrassment or judgment. It’s okay to cry or not to cry and likewise it’s also okay to laugh, to smile remembering them and to find moments of joy.

You can plan ahead for grief “triggers”, these can be special occasions like anniversaries, birthdays, festivals etc. that can reawaken memories and feelings. 

Look after your physical health. Get enough sleep, eat right, and exercise as much as you can, if there are issues with any of these seek help. Never use alcohol or drugs to numb the pain of grief, this might lift your mood briefly but ultimately this will add to the difficulty.


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In case you or anyone else in India is feeling distressed, kindly contact one of these helplines:

KIRAN – 1800 599 0019 (24×7) — 13 Indian languages

NIMHANS – 080 – 4611 0007 (24×7) — Multiple languages

ICall – 9152987821 (Monday-Saturday 10:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.)

Pallium India – +91 759 405 2605 (Monday-Saturday 9:00 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.) — Eight Indian languages

CoHope Helpline – +91 98185 40802 (10:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m.)



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