Grieving people require patience, understanding, and support. This is especially true when the loss occurs amidst a large-scale crisis. In recent months, many of us have lost loved ones prematurely. Even in the best of times, coming to terms with the death of someone we care for is a tremendously difficult task. Doing so in the context of a global disaster is more than should be expected of anyone. Unfortunately, grief is not optional. It will manifest, one way or another, and those of us dealing with loss—particularly a loss paired with a myriad of other stresses specific to this historic moment—have unique needs.
Loss that occurs under unusual circumstances may result in unfamiliar manifestations of grief. None of us have ever lived through an event quite like this. As I write this, most of the United States is under some form of lockdown. Our daily routines have shifted, and in some cases all but vanished. With everything else so changed, why would grief look the same? We may shut down, when we’d normally be expressive. We may be overwhelmed by simple tasks, when we’d usually find solace in such distractions. We may find ourselves questioning long held beliefs and worldviews in ways never prompted by prior losses. On the other hand, maybe we’re responding to this loss as we usually would, but someone who shares the loss seems to shut down. In either case, it could be frustrating. We might ask ourselves, “Do they care?” or—if we’re the ones who shut down—“Do I care? We should remember that, even under normal circumstances, grief reactions look different from person to person, from loss to loss, and even from hour to hour. To the extent that we can, it is important to make room for these varied responses to loss—to extend understanding and compassion—to grant ourselves and others the benefit of the doubt. However, it is important to note that some responses can be a cause for legitimate concern. Sometimes, people begin to engage in risky or unhealthy behaviors in response to intense stress. In such cases, intervention may be necessary. Many mental health providers are continuing to offer their services during the pandemic via teletherapy. Additionally, if you are or someone else is at immediate risk, remember that your local mental health crisis line is there to assist you (in Dutchess County, call 845 485-9700).
Loss can be a shock. When it’s the result of an unexpected crisis, it’s almost certain to be. In the wake of a sudden loss, the basic tasks of daily living may be overwhelming. This is doubly true under our current circumstances, in which many errands and chores are complicated by the necessity for social distancing precautions. Now is the time to ask for help. At a time when almost everyone is experiencing extra stress, we may feel hesitant to reach out. However, in times of crisis, we need to rely on one another. Loss is rarely isolated. Grief is a social phenomenon. Death tears a hole in our social fabric, and across cultures, people come together to mend it. By asking for help, we are not being selfish. We are taking part in a process that is meant to heal everyone touched by the loss. Furthermore, we are helping ourselves get to a place where we can be of help to others should they be in need.
Grief is—among other things—the work of coming to terms with what a particular loss means to us, adjusting to life after loss, and developing the unique ways in which will hold our lost loved one’s memory with us. Under typical circumstances, we can take our time with this process and put the rest of life on hold while we grieve with our support system. However, under crisis circumstances, we may be taxed beyond our ability to tend to the normal tasks of grief. Reaching out to a qualified mental health professional can be the first step to securing the time, space, and support needed to heal.
Thomas Shooman is a mental health counselor practicing at Resolution Psychotherapy in Poughkeepsie, New York. Thomas’ clients include individuals dealing with issues such as anxiety, grief, and obsessive thinking. He enjoys helping people navigate uncomfortable circumstances and find solutions that are in line with their personal style. Thomas is a member of the Association for Contextual Behavioral Science and the International OCD Foundation, and he is currently accepting new clients. For more information or to schedule a session with Thomas, please visit www.resolutionpsychotherapy.com or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org