When we lose someone close to us, whether it’s our partner, parent, family member, friend or even pet, we typically go through a range of physical and emotional responses as we start to come to terms with our loss. Feelings of sadness, shock, denial, anger and a mixture of all of these are perfectly normal. Physical changes may also happen, from losing your appetite to poor sleep and even headaches and sickness.
There is no set timeframe for coming to terms with grief and we’re all different, meaning everyone will have their own ways of coping. This will vary depending on who you’ve lost, the intimacy of your relationship with them, the circumstances and time spent anticipating their death.
For many of us, our coping mechanisms involve relying on a close network of people to offer comfort and support. Which, even as we start to come out of lockdown, will be much more limited, meaning a cuddle and a cuppa with a close friend might not be possible. And with the best intention in the world, a Zoom call or Facetime just isn’t quite the same as physical contact.
Sadly, we can’t put a hold on certain things in life, and losing someone due to illness, age, or any other circumstances will still happen as we work through the pandemic. What’s worse is that for many of us who have lost someone, we won’t have been able to say goodbye in the way we would normally. Hospital visits are limited and care homes aren’t allowing visitors, so not only are we navigating the emotional side of losing someone, but there could be associated feelings of guilt in not being able to say goodbye.
Our co-founder and Consultant Psychologist, Dr Elena Touroni, offers some advice for those of us experiencing a loss and coping with bereavement during this difficult time.
Take one day at a time
It’s a cliché, but it’s true. We all have good days and bad days when grieving, and accepting that bad days happen will help in coming to terms with the grief you are experiencing. If you are having a bad day, then make sure to tell people that you are struggling so they can provide support.
Often, we try to get through the day with tasks and routines that are ‘normal’ to us. However, social distancing and restrictions may make this harder to do. Find things to distract yourself with at home such as some housework, gardening or watching something on the TV at a certain time. Breaking your day into chunks will help time pass and will also help add some structure.
Remember your loved one
For many of us, we will find comfort in going through old photographs or telling stories about the person we’ve lost. Don’t be afraid to take time to remember even if it means you shed a tear. Remembering, and even talking to them out loud, will help in making you feel close to the person you have lost which can ease the pain if you haven’t been able to say goodbye.
You might even wish to make a memorial to them in your garden or in park that you walk through each day. This could be as simple as laying a flower and taking a moment to think about them whenever you pass.
Talk to your support network
Although we can’t visit friends and family at the moment, virtual catch ups are a good second best. Make sure you keep in touch with your support network. Be honest and let them know the time of day you struggle most. A little text before bed saying goodnight, or a call in the morning to say hi could make the world of a difference.
Be kind to yourself
Poor quality sleep, loss of appetite, emotional withdrawal and feeling a lack of purpose are all part of grieving so don’t give yourself a hard time. Accept that you are experiencing grief and try to look after yourself as best you can.
Maintaining regular mealtimes and eating healthy food, whilst avoiding excessive alcohol intake is a good place to start as it will keep you fit and well physically. If you find yourself drinking more frequently or heavily, then try to replace having a drink with another activity that is better for you, such as a relaxing bath, reading a book or going for a walk. Alcohol will help numb the feelings in the moment but will often leave you feeling worse the next day and in the long run.
Alcohol can also have a negative impact on your quality of sleep which could already be affected by grief. It’s important that you try to get good quality sleep as, while we rest, our bodies physically and mentally restore themselves.
While these tips might offer some help in coping with grief, you might find that you need some additional support. Sometimes bereavement can be particularly overwhelming or bring up feelings that are difficult to manage. If you are experiencing ‘complicated bereavement’, this can cause you to become withdrawn, angry, or even experience symptoms of depression. Online bereavement therapy can be helpful in understanding your loss and how it has impacted you and your life.