Pandemic Grief: The Longevity of Healing From Tragic Losses

Written By Lauren Abrams, Contributing Writer

Grief throws a wrench in life regardless of when you feel it. There will never be a convenient time to lose someone, to attend a funeral, or to grieve. As a society, we often seek “closure,” which the American Psychological Association defines as “the act, achievement, or sense of completing or resolving something,”(APA Dictionary of Psychology).  And we try to seek it as quickly as possible.

We might feel the need to find closure for heartbreak, death, loss of a job, or a life experience that was taken from us too quickly. Particularly on the topic of bereavement, the pandemic and its limits on human contact, prevented massive numbers of people from even attempting to find closure. 

It’s valid to feel the injustice of not being able to hold a memorial service at the time of a loved one’s passing. It’s valid to still be processing how limited your capacity may have been to support loved ones during the pandemic. And, it’s valid to still feel stuck on those losses even as the media shifts into happier, more hopeful vaccine-statistic reporting. 

Various religions have funeral rituals for a reason, and there is a reason that end-of-life care centers around surrounding people with loved ones. Physical presence and systems of support construct feelings of certainty and give us something tangible to lean on while the emotional experience flies into chaos. When the grief experience is highly unstable, complex, or irregular, (i.e. living through a pandemic and experiencing isolation, lack of visitation, limited options for bereavement and memorializing), we can experience “complicated grief,” or prolonged grief disorder. This experience can affect your memory, ability to envision the future, and planning. It can be linked to depression, anxiety, and in more severe cases, conditions like PTSD (McConnell). 

In a study about emotional regulatory strategies for prolonged grief, “our review has shown that experiential avoidance, (grief) rumination, and (to a lesser extent) behavioral avoidance play a crucial part in the persistence and treatment of [complicated grief]” (Eisma, Stroebe). Being stuck at home for long periods of time has given us the ability to avoid emotions or bereavement but also the opportunity to sit and dwell on them. 

Further studies examined emotional regulation for prolonged grief in search of action items. They found that intervention counseling with clinicians as well as employing various mindfulness techniques helped combat behavioral symptoms and improved mental health. One highly referenced model was the ATTEND model, which uses “attunement, trust, therapeutic touch, egalitarianism, nuance, and death education.” In translation, attunement, trust, and neutral touch involve the patient and care provider forming a bond of emotional solidarity as well as open, casual communication. Nuance and death education involve openly communicating about the family member who has passed and preparing to deal with the nitty gritty of death-related experiences (Thieleman). 

While you may not currently have a counselor to provide these specific things for you, this could provide a foundation for what you look for in a counselor or therapist.  Additionally, you get to exercise agency for other practices such seeking out personal mindfulness practices, or beginning to practice self-forgiveness for how long you may be feeling the aftershocks of loss. Please know, There is nothing ‘“wrong” with us nor are we “dramatic” for feeling stuck on Covid-19 related losses. 

References

APA Dictionary of Psychology, American Psychological Association, dictionary.apa.org/closure 

Eisma, Maarten C., and Margaret S. Stroebe. “Emotion Regulatory Strategies in Complicated Grief: A Systematic Review.” Behavior Therapy, vol. 52, no. 1, 2021, pp. 234–249., doi:10.1016/j.beth.2020.04.004. 

McConnell, Kat R, et al. “Coping with Grief in the Time of COVID-19.” Edited by Sandra Hunter, Athletic and Human Performance Center, Marquette University, 9 July 2020 

Thieleman, Kara, et al. “Traumatic Bereavement and Mindfulness: A Preliminary Study of Mental Health Outcomes Using the ATTEND Model.” Clinical Social Work Journal, vol. 42, no. 3, 2014, pp. 260–268., doi:10.1007/s10615-014-0491-4.

Published by Counseling With Leslie

Leslie Stevens, M.Ed., LCMHC is a North Carolina and Virginia board-certified licensed professional counselor. She co-owns a successful practice in Carrboro, North Carolina. Leslie specializes in helping adults navigate stress, depression, anxiety, and perfectionism. Additionally, she is a life strategist, spiritual coach, and writer.

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