Grief is a natural response when experiencing a loss, and it can lead to different reactions, including shock or denial, distress, anger, and loss of sleep or appetite, among others. Without doubt, over the last year, many people have and continue to experience losses caused by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Many have lost loved ones. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the United States has recorded over half a million deaths, while Texas and Hidalgo County have registered almost 50,000 and 3,000 deaths, respectively, at the time of publication. Coping with the death of a loved one is always difficult, but it can be particularly challenging amid a global pandemic. For instance, guidelines established by the authorities may impact funeral services or other important coping actions that help us grieve the loss of a loved one. Unfortunately, these restrictions add to the grief and sadness experienced by loved ones left behind. Moreover, many people have experienced other types of losses, ranging from losing their jobs and financial security to losing their daily routines and lifestyles. People experiencing this kind of loss may not recognize those as significant setbacks and thus may fail to understand their experience as grief. With so many facing sudden loss, advice on how to comfort others, as well as ways to process our own grief during this pandemic is essential. Fortunately, there are some strategies to help process the loss of a loved one — or any other loss — in a healthy manner. These include:
- Acknowledging the loss and pain. Dismissing the loss does not alleviate the pain. Instead, find some way to reduce the grief. Expressing grief through art, gardening, and writing can bring comfort.
- Connecting with friends or family. Connecting with friends and family through video communication to exchange stories and photos of a loved one.
- Accepting the feelings and knowing they are valid. Feeling different types of emotions such as anger and sadness is a normal reaction when grieving a significant loss.
- Keeping the memories of your loved one alive. Create a photo album, memory book, blog, or webpage to remember your loved one, and ask family and friends to contribute their pictures, memories, and stories.
- Creating a ritual to honor your loved one. Engage in an activity with the goal of honoring your loved one. This can be planting a tree in their honor, preparing their favorite meal, or visiting their favorite spots in town, among other ideas. These little rituals can serve as a way to honor the life of your loved one.
- Joining a support group. Studies have found many benefits of peer support for bereaved survivors such as reduced grief symptoms for depression, anxiety, and loneliness. Online support groups may connect you with others experiencing similar emotions.
- Allowing yourself to seek help. Mental health services can assist by offering counseling to process difficult emotions. Each of us heal differently, so take your time and go at your own pace.
Below are some additional tips for parents and others trying to help a child or teenager with the grieving process:
- Listen. Adults can demonstrate their care and concern by listening. Children may feel more comfortable talking while engaging in other activities such as walking or doodling. At the same time, respect their silence.
- Provide answers. Depriving children from answers and information is detrimental to their mourning and healing. It jeopardizes their trust and communication, making them susceptible to feelings of isolation and confusion.
- Accommodate their maturity and developmental level. Younger children may need basic, concrete information, while older children may appreciate more details.
- Provide professional help if needed. Find a school counselor or mental health professional to obtain further support for your child or teenager grieving, if necessary.
Resources for the public
Support groups are available for people experiencing the loss of a loved one. Below are some free, online, and phone resources available for you. As always, talk to your health provider if you are experiencing a difficult time with the loss of a loved one.
- Online mourning support groups for adults and minors: https://www.mourninghope.org/griefresources/covid.html
- Children’s Bereavement Center Rio Grande Valley: 956-368-4065
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255
Co-authors include Dr. Mercado’s Mental Health Lab at UTRGV: Abraham Martinez, Amanda Palomin, Andy Torres, Pablo Ruiz, Sandra Chapa, Maria Sevilla-Matos, and Josue Cerroblanco