Crossing the Bridge: Experiencing Grief and Loss in a Pandemic
By Lily Shalev, Senior Outreach Therapist at JFS
The Bridge/ Leopold Staff
I didn’t believe,
Standing on the bank of a river
Which was wide and swift,
That I would cross that bridge
Plaited from thin, fragile reeds
Fastened with bast.
I walked delicately as a butterfly
And heavily as an elephant,
I walked surely as a dancer
And wavered like a blind man.
I didn’t believe that I would cross that bridge,
And now that I am standing on the other side,
I don’t believe I crossed it.
(Translated from the Polish by Czeslaw Milosz)
All of us will experience loss at some point in our lives and grieve for what we have lost. Like in the poem, overwhelmed with the sense of grief, we feel it’s impossible to cross that bridge. Yet most of us will take those first steps and get to the other side. From our new spot, we learn that grief never completely goes away, and that life may not be the same as before, but the grieving process will allow us to accept the loss and adjust to a world that is missing a significant piece from our life.
What is grief?
Grief is the normal response of sorrow, heartache, and confusion from losing someone or something important to us. Grief can happen in response to a loss of life, as well as drastic changes in the ways of life that usually bring us comfort and a feeling of stability (like unemployment, or loss of our house, loss or reduction in support services, and other changes in one’s lifestyle). These losses can happen simultaneously, which can complicate or prolong grief and delay a person’s ability to adapt, heal, and recover.
Grief is not limited to feelings of sadness. It can also involve guilt, yearning, anger, and regret. Sometimes, there are physical reactions, including shakiness, muscle weakness, trouble eating, trouble sleeping, or difficulty breathing. While grieving, one may also have nightmares, withdraw socially, and not participate in their usual activities. Grieving behaviors also have a wide range. Some people find comfort in sharing their feelings with company. Other people may prefer to be alone with their emotions, engaging in silent activities like exercising or writing.
The COVID-19 Pandemic
As a result of the Covid-19 crisis, many people feel deep grief and loss over the death of their loved ones. But unfortunately, they also feel the loss of their ability to grieve those loved ones in the way they would wish. In many cases, extended family and friends couldn’t be invited to attend funerals, and the bereaved weren’t even allowed to hug their grieving loved ones.
In addition, this crisis has led to many secondary losses, such as daily routine, a sense of connection, job security, social gatherings, family gatherings, and immediate and long-term goals. As a result, the future has become largely unknown and unknowable.
At the best of times, death can feel isolating, but even more so during Covid-19. We need to be gentle, connect meaningfully with one another, and care for our hearts in a way that feels right to us.
How do we cross the bridge? The process of recovering from grief
There is no right or wrong way to cross the bridge. Everyone grieves in their own way and pace. It depends on many factors, including personality and coping style, life experience, faith, and how significant the loss was to the person.
The grieving process takes time, and there is no “normal” timetable for grieving. Some people start to feel better and resume normal activities in weeks or months. For others, the grieving process is measured in years. Whatever your grief experience, it’s essential to be patient with yourself and allow the process to unfold naturally.
Seek support for grief and loss
Even if you’re not comfortable talking about your feelings under normal circumstances, it’s important to try and express them when you’re grieving. Comfort can also come from just being around others who care about you. The key is not to isolate yourself.
A little help from friends and family. Lean on the people who care about you. Draw friends and loved ones close, spend time together face to face, and accept the assistance that’s offered. Help people help you by telling them what you need, whether it’s a shoulder to cry on, a listening ear, or just someone to hang out with.
Take comfort in your faith. If you follow a religious tradition, embrace the comfort its mourning rituals can provide. In addition, spiritual activities meaningful to you—such as praying or meditating—can offer solace.
Join a support group. Sharing your sorrow with others who have experienced similar losses can help.
Talk to a therapist or grief counselor. If your grief feels like too much to bear, find a mental health professional with experience in grief counseling. An experienced therapist can help you work through intense emotions and overcome obstacles to your grieving.
Taking care of yourself
Acknowledge your losses and your feelings of grief. To heal, you need to acknowledge the pain. Find ways to express your grief. Some people express grief and find comfort through art, gardening, writing, talking to friends or family, cooking, music, or other creative practices.
Consider developing new rituals. You may need to develop new rituals in your daily routine to stay connected with your loved ones to replace those that have been lost. People who live together may consider playing board games and exercising together outdoors. People who live alone or are separated from their loved ones may consider interacting through phone calls and apps that allow for playing games together virtually.
Accept your unique healing journey. Don’t let anyone tell you how to feel, and don’t tell yourself how to feel either. Let yourself feel whatever you feel without embarrassment or judgment. It’s okay to be angry, to yell at the heavens, to cry, or not to cry. It’s also OK to laugh, to find moments of joy, and to let go when you’re ready.
Look after your physical health. The mind and body are connected. When you feel healthy physically, you’ll be better able to cope emotionally. Try to get enough sleep, eat right, and exercise.
For more support:
BC Bereavement Helpline: https://www.bcbh.ca/