How to deal with loss, grief during the COVID-19 pandemic

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Now more than a year after the start of the pandemic, CBC Ottawa is examining how people are adjusting to new realities with its series The Slow Return.


In April 2020, Sue Morin and her family received news that still breaks her heart today.

Her “Grams” – who was like a second mom to her – was diagnosed with a brain tumor.

Due to public health restrictions, doctors in Manitoba would not allow an out-of-province family to visit their grandmother during treatment. When she died in September, only members of her immediate family were able to attend the funeral and Morin, who lives in Ottawa, had to join in a ceremony broadcast live.

Morin is one of many who lost someone or something important during the pandemic, and whose grieving process has been disrupted by strict restrictions.

“Not being able to be there with her and not being able to attend the funeral… the comfort you feel when the family comes together – we couldn’t have that because of the pandemic,” said Morin.

“It was the hardest part.”

From right to left, Sue Morin, her mother and her grandmother. Morin lost his grandmother to cancer during the pandemic and is still in mourning. (Submitted by Sue Morin)

A year later, Morin is still mourning his Grams.

“I’m still very upset about this,” she said, teary eyed. “It’s not something that can be bottled inside. You have to mourn.”

These kinds of stories are all too common during the pandemic, says Julie Ann Levett, program manager at the Ottawa branch of Bereaved Families Ontario.

“COVID losses are traumatic losses,” said Levett, who helps lead weekly support groups for those facing a loss. “It’s a lot harder for people. It’s very painful.”

Connections are essential

The inability to organize a proper funeral, for example, has had a huge impact on people’s mental health, and Levett sees more depression and anxiety among clients.

“Grieving rituals are very valuable in helping to come to terms with the reality of death. And so without… these typical supports, people are much more lost in their grief.”

Losses from COVID are traumatic losses.– Julie Ann Levett, Bereaved Families of Ontario Ottawa

Levett says connecting with others is an antidote – and she recommends people “take the risk” and contact a friend, a friendly neighbor, or even a family doctor.

Using a journal, trying to rest and even finding a community – whether it’s faith-based or cultural – could also help during these times, she said.

If a bereavement community is something you’re open to, Levett says Bereaved Families offers a variety of individual or group sessions. Grieving walks are another option for people who are not yet comfortable opening up with words.

WATCH | The grief support group facilitator describes what some people are going through:

Work to “normalize” the physical and cognitive characteristics of grief

Julie Ann Levett, program manager at the Ottawa branch of Bereaved Families Ontario, says grief includes a wide range of intense emotions as well as a variety of physical symptoms. 0:42

Job loss, difficult relationships: psychotherapist

Meanwhile, some people have found themselves out of work, while others have separated from their partners during the pandemic.

Meredith Dault, who lives in Kingston, Ont., Recalled when she was “blinded” by her common-law partner for seven years, who suddenly left her six weeks after the start of the pandemic.

“It’s a really brutal time for that to happen… No one would hug you, no one would touch you,” she said. “It was devastating… I find it hard to be alone at the best of times, and that made that feeling of loneliness so incredibly heightened.”

Meredith Dault poses with her new all-terrain motorcycle on the left and her Labrador maple on the right. Her bike and Maple helped her cope with the loss of a relationship during the pandemic. (Submitted by Meredith Dault)

Ottawa psychotherapist Zahra Nafar has seen many people struggle with job and relationship losses during COVID-19.

The trauma specialist says she works on post-traumatic growth with some of her clients – a transformation that comes about recognizing and going through trauma, which results in resilience.

WATCH | The psychotherapist recommends working on post-traumatic growth:

How to Emphasize “Post-traumatic Growth” as a Means of Managing Grieving

Psychotherapist Zahra Nafar encourages clients to recognize their grief and find ways to use self-compassion as part of healing. 1:04

“[It’s] the ability to bounce back, ”she explained.

Nafar recommends doing it one day, one step at a time, and she suggests asking yourself questions like: who am I other than my job? Who am I outside of my relationship? Would this be the time for me to self-compile, heal and rebuild myself?

“What part of me stays consistent?” What part of my authentic self that I could take and apply anywhere? ” she said.

“When it comes to grief and loss, you are important and what happens to you matters,” Nafar told those who minimize their losses, which can be damaging. “Just because others are going through something more difficult than you does not make your pain and suffering less difficult. “

Dault says her situation forced her to become introspective. She worked with a therapist, remodeled her home, bought an all-terrain motorcycle, and leaned on her dog, Maple. Her neighbors also blessed her with homemade meals, a gesture close to her heart.

“I’m just trying to make my peace with being alone,” she said of entering her new normal.

“What I want my next chapter to be – it’s hard work, but I think it’s important work. And the pandemic is forcing me to face it.”


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