Acknowledging Grief and Loss In This Era of Covid

Pandemic psychology and fear of contagion or psychological fears of disease or virus infections with 3D illustration elements.

There are so many images on the news today showing the horrific impact on people experiencing the Covid virus, especially the new variant. There are the images of the hospitals with people on ventilators, people in body bags, distressed faces and voices of the staff trying to provide medical care while being overwhelmed themselves with what they are seeing and feeling.

There also are now so many images of children with Covid. There are the faces of children who have died and how devastated their families are. Any time a child is lost, the grief is so much more profound than when someone who is much older. Otherwise healthy children are just not supposed to suddenly die!

For me sometimes gaining clarity about highly emotional issues gives me more of a cognitive sense that allows me to be in a thinking place than a feeling place in my brain. So I thought I would offer some of that to you in this blog. The goal is to provide some clarity around grief, grieving, and the many losses we and others may be experiencing as a way to both understand and validate what is true for so many of us. I want to especially encourage us to appreciate how the many losses can impact children.

By definitions grief is the feeling or emotional experience of deep sorrow and sense of loss. It is often associated with death and some kind of change or a shifting or moving from one thing to another, leaving the first thing behind. To be grieving is to experience grief over time, of gradually recovering from loss. Grief then is closely connected with loss.

Scared young woman in medical mask standing over gray background with blurry red virus molecules. Concept of coronavirus and Asian flu panic. Toned image

Loss involves something being taken, broken, destroyed, damaged and/or lost. Losses can be expected, normal, or necessary. Losses can be concrete and reality-based or more abstract. As a result of losing something, there is often a grieving process that occurs in response to that loss.

Losses can include the loss of a dream. With Covid, this can be the loss of the dream of a healthy, vibrant family if a member becomes ill or dies. This is especially true when there is the loss of a child. It can include the loss of privacy, or when boundaries are breached like hospital experiences that involve a loss of privacy and dignity. It can also include the loss of innocence and/or idealism: the loss of our belief that we are somehow immune to viruses like this. Also, it might be the loss of time, the feeling we can no longer go back to “normal.” Or maybe it’s the loss of a sense of immortality, the realization that many people cannot survive Covid, or the sense that some of us may run out of time to experience life and may lose the future we expected to have.

With all that is happening during this Covid epidemic, these losses are impacting individuals, families, communities, our country, and the world. For children, there can be so much fear and confusion that is even greater than what adults are experiencing because children do not have the more mature coping mechanisms adults have.

Dr. Sandra Bloom

Dr. Sandra Bloom in Creating Sanctuary shares the following: “Part of what makes the mourning experience so difficult is that the survivor is so utterly alone.” Again I think of the images in the news of people in isolation as they deal with all the invasive, painful and frightening medical interventions.

Here is some information that focuses on children: Levine and Klein in Trauma Through a Child’s Eyes state that, “Wherever there is trauma, there is also grief. Grief is the emotion that accompanies loss. Whether the trauma is from a disaster, such as a fire or flood, or from a betrayal, such as molestation or abandonment by a trusted adult, something of value has been lost. Whether it is material, such as a family’s house and personal possessions, or something less tangible, such as the loss of innocence, the sense of the world as a safe place seems to be gone forever. It is possible to have grief without trauma; it is not possible to have trauma without grief.

And from the National Institute for Trauma and Loss in Children we learn that:

• Trauma Reactions are DIFFERENT from Grief Reactions.

• Trauma Reactions OVERPOWER Grief Reactions.

• Children can be traumatized by violent or non-violent incidents.

• Separation from a parent through divorce or foster care, a family member’s terminal illness or sudden death, exposure to physical or sexual abuse, witness of drug use, house fire, tornado, flood, earthquakes or hurricanes, as well as drowning, murder, suicide, school violence can all be traumatizing incidents.

This is a very sobering blog and yet I think it can be helpful to put a name to and descriptions for what is going on in the world in general and perhaps for you or those you know. Sometimes the acknowledgment of pain, loss and grief is comforting. There is so much we are all grieving about, each in our own unique ways and also collectively in ways we all can share.

Acknowledging grief, embracing what is a reality, and knowing that when we all come together to share our grief can reduce some of that loneliness that Dr Bloom talked about. We need to be able to cry together, to mourn, to embrace each other, to pray together, to have hope that there is a better future ahead of us..

Invitation for Reflection

  1. When you think about personal grief and loss, what comes to mind? In what ways has Covid robbed you of both literally and in terms of your sense of safety and security?
  2. To what extent have you acknowledged and grieved these losses?
  3. How has coping with losses associated with the Covid virus impacted the children in your life?
  4. To what extent do you have a support system that helps you acknowledge, feel, and appreciate losses you experience, both those that are concrete and tangible and those that are more sensory in nature, less tangible and yet every bit as real? How can you activate the supports that you need? How can you be supportive of others?

Diane Wagenhals, Director, Lakeside Global Institute