Lea Watson, MD, talks about how to deal with grief and mourning from having to put life and loved ones on hold for over a year, and how to get back to living.
You’ve missed time with your loved ones during the past 16 months. You may be experiencing a sense of loss and feelings of sadness or anger. It’s only natural to feel bad about what COVID-19 and the lockdowns and took from you, and it’s okay to mourn these losses. But it’s also necessary to heal, embrace the memories you have, and make new memories with your loved ones as able.
If you have feelings of grief or sadness, there is nothing wrong. This is a normal response to losses during or after a traumatic event such as this pandemic. Grief isn’t just limited to loss of life; it also is a common reaction to drastic changes to daily routines and activities that usually bring comfort and a feeling of stability.
Feelings of grief may involve shock, disbelief or denial, anxiety, distress, anger, and periods of sadness and loss of sleep and/or appetite. There is no set way that people experience grief. It can manifest in different people in different ways and at different times.
If you are still grieving, there are some steps you can take to start to heal:
- •Acknowledge your feelings of loss and grief and find ways to express them. This might mean gardening, writing, painting or drawing, cooking, playing or listening to music, spending time with a pet, or other creative activities.
- •Connect in some way with people who have experienced similar losses. Participate in virtual or live (if possible) support groups. Talk to friends and family about your feelings. Gather with them (virtually or live) to share happy stories from before the pandemic and things you want to do in the future. It’s okay to admit that you’re sad or angry, or that you feel robbed by the pandemic and lockdowns. But try to focus on happy memories, including during the pandemic.
- •Sit down with photo albums, scrapbooks, home movies, or other things to look back on happy times. Nostalgia can be very self-soothing and help you focus on happy times and memories. Especially if your family member’s cognition or health has declined considerably in the past year, it is helpful to revisit times when your loved one was healthy and enjoying life.
- •Consider developing new rituals or traditions to stay connected with your loved ones. For instance, play board games together, start a movie night, or establish weekly or monthly theme meals.
- •If you’re not feeling better and/or your feelings of grief continue, seek grief counseling or mental health services, support groups, and/or spiritual support from faith-based organizations. Talk to your physician or other practitioner.
As post-acute and long-term care facilities open up, you may want to make up for lost time with your loved one, but it’s important to do this thoughtfully and cautiously. If your loved one is eager to get out and about, help them to do so safely. Talk to their physician or other practitioner about assessing their risk for falling, have their vision and hearing tested, and make sure they are able to walk and move easily. Make sure they have masks, hand sanitizer, and other items they need, and remind them about safety precautions such as handwashing and social distancing.
If your loved one is hesitant to leave his or her room or building, be understanding and patient. After all, for over a year they’ve been told not to go out. Now some are afraid to leave the safety of their room, and others have gotten comfortable and don’t want to go anywhere. Either way, it’s important not to force them. Instead, start slowly. Go for a walk down the hall or out to the garden, then maybe take them to the dining room for a meal, snack, or beverage. Eventually, you can encourage them to resume social events or activities.
Questions to Ask Your Practitioner
- •How do I know if I need help with my feelings of grief?
- •How can I help others who are hurting?
- •How long does it take get over feelings of grief? Is it normal still to be angry or sad even though the pandemic is — hopefully — winding down?
What You Can Do
- •Find memories that make you and your loved one feel good. Share stories and pictures. Share food that reminds you of happy times.
- •Make plans for the future. Start small — a dinner out, a hike, or a shopping trip.
- •Seek professional help if your grief doesn’t go away or gets worse, especially if you are having sleep problems, eating issues, or increasing your alcohol consumption.
For More Information
- •Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Grief and Loss,” July 22, 2021. https://www.cdc.gov/mentalhealth/stress-coping/grief-loss/index.html
- •Kaitlyn Tiffany, “Is That Nostalgia You’re Feeling?” The Atlantic, April 1, 2020.https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2020/04/nostalgia-before-coronavirus-missing-the-recent-past/609196/
This column originally appeared online and in print in Caring for the Ages (www.caringfortheages.com).
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