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How To Cope With Grief During A Pandemic

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We are all touched at some level by loss in this COVID-19 pandemic — from the loss of our freedom to walk on the beach or connect with friends, to the loss of a job and an income or, more tragically, to the loss of a loved one.

Speaker 1: 00:00 We are all touched at some level by loss in this covert 19 pandemic from the loss of our freedom to walk on the beach or connect with friends to the loss of a job or an income or more tragically to the loss of a loved one and the restrictions put on us during the pandemic make the feelings of loss. All the more difficult to deal with. Megan divine is a psychotherapist and lecturer who has written about grief and how to help those dealing with grief. Her book is called, it's okay that you're not. Okay. Welcome Megan. Thank you for having me. So grief and loss, it's a, it's a tough enough feeling to deal with at any time, but what would you say is the most important thing to remember when dealing with it during this pandemic?

Speaker 2: 00:40 I think the pandemic, what it changes for threat of everyday losses and grief is that we've got so many things coming at us all at once. Everything feels extra overwhelming. So the thing to really remember is that whatever you're feeling is normal, as messy as it feels, it's all normal.

Speaker 1: 00:59 And you talk about hierarchies of grief, you know, at this time, some people are feeling the, the ultimate loss of someone they love. Um, and others, you know, have lesser experiences of grief. It's very varied. But you say they're all valid, right?

Speaker 2: 01:15 They are all valid. There's a, there's a long continuum of losses from those sort of everyday smaller losses of, as you said, not being able to walk on the beach right up to losing a loved one. They aren't all the same losses, but they are all valid.

Speaker 1: 01:31 Now, if, if you're someone who's experiencing one of the lesser losses, do you have to have, you know, a little bit of consideration of who you express that to because of this situation where different people are experiencing different levels of grief?

Speaker 2: 01:46 Oh, I think so. And I think that's true in, in normal times too. Not just in pandemic times. We want to choose our audience and choose our timing. Every loss is valid, but every loss isn't the same. So if you are wrestling with the loss of a job or the loss of your daily routine, find people to um, to support you and to, to talk about that who may be, aren't dealing with the loss of a loved one right at this moment. It's sort of a, an emotional triage, right? We want to reach out to people who are able to support us and maybe turn around and offer that support for folks who are maybe on the other end of the continuum where they are wrestling with a health issue or with a death of someone close. So thousands of

Speaker 1: 02:29 here in San Diego have lost jobs and are feeling very insecure about their incomes and possibly how they're going to support their families. But um, tell us about what are some of the feelings that you have around that. It's not just the loss of the job is it, it might go even deeper than that. We

Speaker 2: 02:47 have a lot of our identities tied up in our work. We often think of that as a negative thing, right? You have too much of your identity tied up in your job. But it's aware we spend a lot of time, a lot of us have deep friendships that happen in our workplace and suddenly having that job disappear while all of our other sort of daily touchstones and routines have also disappeared. That's even more stressful. So there, there are vast ripple effects from the loss of a job that go beyond just the loss of an income.

Speaker 1: 03:18 No, the death of a loved one is one of the hardest things anyone can go through in life. And during this pandemic, it's made so much harder because of the rules in hospitals and nursing homes that, you know, don't even allow family members to be with their loved ones in their final hours. What are you hearing about that and how do you deal with that?

Speaker 2: 03:36 Mmm, it's so heartbreaking. So I'm hearing from grieving people, right? Who, whether their person died of the virus or not, they weren't able to be with them during the last days of their lives. And, and that is brutal and it's crushing, right? It's hard enough to say goodbye to somebody you love, but knowing that they were alone adds another layer of suffering to that. So I'm hearing from grieving people that they feel guilty that they are more distressed than they think they might've been because they did miss out on those moments.

Speaker 1: 04:07 Any advice you can give us to really how to, how to work through this?

Speaker 2: 04:11 I think again, the thing to remember that whatever someone is experiencing or feeling is a normal response to an abnormal situation. I think we can beat ourselves up in a way for taking things so badly or feeling so upset or not being able to quote unquote deal with that. And that bar is too high, right? Expecting to be able to handle this sort of stuff. So reminding yourself, acknowledging how hard all of this is. Acknowledgement really is the best medicine we have. And sometimes it's the only medicine and that seems like it's too simple to be useful. But telling ourselves the truth about how hard this is makes it just a little bit easier. We're not fighting with ourselves in a sense. So one, acknowledge how difficult this is. Recognize that whatever you're feeling is normal as uncomfortable at us as it is. And the other really important thing is in times of great stress, we want to come back to the foundational basics of taking care of our body and our minds, right?

Speaker 2: 05:11 So our bodies and our minds and our nervous systems are being asked to withstand a lot more stress and emotional input than usual. So doing whatever you can to help yourself withstand this eating as healthfully and as, as frequently as you can, getting enough rest as you can, moving your body, as you're able, finding moments to step back from the fire hose of tragedy and news to just give yourself a moment to sort of take a breath again. They don't seem like they would be helpful, but any time you can support your body and your mind to withstand what it's being asked to, a stand that's going to help.

Speaker 1: 05:51 One of the things about funerals is that people a chance to grieve together and now there isn't really that opportunity. So what advice would you give to people who are really struggling with the lack of a funeral?

Speaker 2: 06:05 One thing to remember is that this is not a once and done. There will eventually be a time when we can gather in person together. Again, it might be different, but there will come a time when we can do that. It's okay to plan for a future event. You don't miss your time window to sit Shiva or to have a Memorial or to have a funeral. The other thing is we can find creative ways to connect. The really important thing about the funeral or awake or or sitting Shiva together is having a time where we all come together and acknowledge what's happened. It's sort of a way to fill up the tanks of grieving people so that they have something to sustain them through the long haul. So finding creative ways to do that together. I've been hearing about a lot of uh, virtual Memorial brunches where somebody is the designated DJ and friends and family put in their music requests to the DJ and there's a playlist that plays in the background. Maybe we get a grandma's cookie recipe and all of us make that in our own homes so that we can share one common food together. As we gather, there are lots of creative ways to meet that need to gather and connect. So the fact that we can't have in person events right now, it doesn't mean we can't gather and it doesn't mean we can't meet those needs for connection. We just need to be creative in the ways that we do that.

Speaker 1: 07:27 So you've talked about how we can really take care of ourselves with the grief. What about taking care of somebody else? How can we help someone else who's really going through that? What's the best way to be with them?

Speaker 2: 07:40 That's a great question. So in ordinary times, in normal times, grief can feel really isolating. It can feel really lonely. One of the things that I'm hearing from grieving people a lot right now is they feel like their grief has been sort of erased in the wider, larger grief that's going on. So now more than ever, this is when we want to be reaching out to folks who we know are grieving and checking in with them. One of the things that we often do is we try to cheer each other up. And again, that can be sort of weird in the best of times, but right now, cheering somebody up is gonna is gonna feel really strange. A better thing to do is to acknowledge that they're going through something tough and offer to be a listening ear.

Speaker 1: 08:21 That's something we could all get better at. Thanks so much for your, uh, words of wisdom. Megan, you're so welcome. That's Megan divine, who is a psychotherapist whose book is called, it's okay that you are not okay.

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Maureen Cavanaugh and Jade Hindmon host KPBS Midday Edition, a daily radio news magazine keeping San Diego in the know on everything from politics to the arts.