Dealing With Collective Grief & Loss During the COVID-19 Pandemic

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If you've mourned the loss of a beloved celebrity, you've felt it. Anyone who has been through a natural disaster in their community has shared this feeling with others. The COVID-19 situation is like nothing we've seen in recent memory, and collective grief can be felt almost everywhere, by everyone.

What is collective grief though? Collective grief can be described as a sense of loss felt by a group of people.

Jump ahead to these sections:

With COVID-19, everyone in the world has adjusted their lifestyle to reduce their risk of getting the virus. In other cases, some people put their health at risk to do essential jobs like healthcare staffers, delivery workers, and grocery workers. Daily life is stressful and full of uncertainty, but we're all in this together for better or for worse.

With the pandemic, it is important to retain a sense of community and understand our collective grief in order to get through it all together.

What is Collective Grief and Loss? 

It can sound off to describe the unsettling feelings during the COVID-19 pandemic as grief, but it is when you look at it more closely. We're mourning the loss of our ordinary lives and a future we thought we understood.

We fear the consequences of a virus we don't understand well. Every day we wish for a return to our boring normal lives. Instead, we have a world that is both full of ordinary activities in our home and worrisome reports of death and illness. This uncomfortable feeling we all have is collective grief.

Calendars are hard to look at right now. Once full of reminders for special events, they now sit barren and nearly unused. Sports seasons, school years, and family gatherings are either canceled or put off indefinitely. When will life feel OK again?

This situation won't feel normal for a long time, and we have no choice but to move through it together.

How We Experience Collective Grief and Loss

So many aspects of normal life have changed as a result of the coronavirus, and other past historical moments of uncertainty. With the pandemic, it is impossible to have social gatherings, music performances, and sports.

In the past, governments have shut down cities and states after terrorist attacks, held collective days of mourning after a natural disaster, among other events.

Despite past experiences with different types of losses, each one is unique to a community, a state, a nation, and a society. What does collective grief look like to you?

High schools and colleges

High school and college graduates are dealing with enormous losses at the finish line of their academic careers. The last few months of a graduate's life are usually about honors, awards, and final achievements. These students get to shine one last time in front of family and friends. 

Now, many schools are holding virtual graduation ceremonies online. Other schools have postponed their in-person celebrations, hoping to do them sometime during the summer. All sports and activities have been canceled, including state and regional competitions.

Schools are making sure seniors get their degrees, but nothing can replace a lost season of performance or competition. Baseball and track records will have a blank spot for the 2020 season. Concert stages will be empty. Year-end dance recitals will go unperformed. None of these students had a say in how things changed.

Sports and entertainment

The entertainment industry may not be an essential service, especially compared to health care. But where do we turn when we need a break from stress and real life? Sports, music, movies, and other entertainment. These activities are a refuge when we need to change our mood, lift our spirits, and find our energy. 

With these events on hold for now, we still turn on sports channels, listen to music, and watch TV.  We can view virtual tours of famous zoos and broadcasts of popular theatre shows. These are helpful distractions, but are only an echo of the collective spirit felt at a live event.

Weddings

Weddings look much different than brides and grooms planned for, even just a few months ago. Some couples have postponed their wedding day, and others have gone ahead with no guests and a video feed. Couples have canceled receptions, put off honeymoons, and missed out on seeing extended family. 

We need to feel the spark that only comes from doing something social. Humans need to go places, do things, and move around. As concerned as we all are about the virus, these social losses are real too. The collective grief is real, and it hurts.

5 Tips for Dealing With Collective Grief at Home 

Stress is on the rise and many people feel both mentally and physically trapped. Take the following tips to heart and do a few things to take care of yourself.

1. Find gratitude and positivity

Being grateful can be hard, especially when we are surrounded by loss. It’s natural to get caught up in the things that will never be. One look at your calendar and you’ll see blank spaces instead of fun plans. You probably had no control over these changes and nothing will bring them back.

Gratitude forces us to look at things differently. We have to focus on what we have instead of what we missed. Think of what you and your family were looking forward to right now. Maybe you planned on traveling, seeing family, and attending some sporting events. Your children may be missing out on their favorite school activity or sport. 

With a focus on the positive, a little gratitude can take the sting out of your losses:

  • Acknowledge what you’re missing, but also pay attention to the positives.
  • Recognize what you are thankful for like food, safety, money, health, being together, etc.
  • Recall happy memories of previous trips and places you’d like to travel in the future. 
  • Enjoy your family’s company with phone calls and video chats. 
  • Find some sports reruns of your favorite teams online or on TV. 
  • Find ways to help your family, friends, coworkers, and community.

2. Keep connecting with others

Everyone you know is experiencing loss. Think of any activity you do outside of your home, and you can think of a way that has changed. As we all isolate and retreat from social gatherings, it's easy to forget what others feel. Your family, friends, and coworkers all crave social connection.

Reach out and get in touch with people as often as you can. Without the weekly card game, baseball games, or church activities, we all have to rethink the way we get human contact. If someone you know has suffered a loss, make sure to reach out and pay your respects.

Stay connected through phone calls, video meeting apps, texts, and social media. You need it and your friends and family need it, maybe some more than they realize.

3. Take care of yourself

Self-care routines are more important than ever right now. Reality can be stressful and boring at the same time. People are isolated, distracted, and miss their normal lives. You need your self-care routines to get through the ups and downs of each day.

  • Sleep: Chronic stress can disrupt your sleep, so do your best to wind down at the end of each day. Make sure your bedroom is comfortable, dark, and quiet. Try to keep a daily routine, even if you don't sleep well for a night or two. You'll eventually get tired and fall asleep.
  • Eating: Stress can upset your stomach, so pay attention to how your digestion feels. Have some bland foods on hand and drink fluids if you don't feel well. Resist the temptation to eat junk food all day. This may be a challenge with being home all day, so purchase healthy snacks to have around. Also, try to eat at the same times you normally would. A little indulgence won't hurt now and then, but try to choose healthy balanced meals at similar times each day. Your digestive tract will appreciate having a routine.
  • Take breaks: Stress will make you more distracted. Focus on your tasks, but don't beat yourself up if you get off-track. Everyone is struggling with focus right now and that is normal. Take breaks, even more often than you usually would. Frequent breaks can help prevent a big build-up of stress and frustration. 
  • Socialize: Stress can make you feel isolated, so connect with others you care about every day. Texting, video apps, phone calls, or yelling over the fence at your neighbor all count. Send a quarantine care package to a friend or loved one. A little communication with another human reminds you that we're all in this together and that you matter. 
  • Get active: Stress can make you hold tension in your muscles, so get some physical activity every day. Step outside for fresh air, take a walk, or do some yard work. If you can't get outside, find a few online exercise videos to try. Walk around your house or jog in place with some peppy music.

4. Name your grief

Grief can be an unsettling experience, especially if you don't recognize it. People understand that when a person dies, their loved ones grieve. But with the coronavirus, grief has been hard to comprehend or explain. 

Go ahead and name this strange feeling what it is. Acknowledge that you are grieving. That feeling of emptiness, pain, and disorientation you've had the last several weeks is going to stick around for a while. Even if you aren't an essential worker or someone who's been directly affected by the virus yet, it can be hard to think that you’ve given up a lot, but you have. 

You may be feeling anticipatory grief as well. How much longer will you have to give up your life? How many people will die in your community? We’re just at the beginning of the long haul with the coronavirus, so anticipatory grief is a real thing for many people. Whatever you grieve, name it and you won't feel so alarmed by it.

5. Accept that you will go through ups and downs

One day, you might think you have your at-home life down pretty well. The next day, you might feel a random sense of anxiety flowing through your body. Back and forth you go, bouncing between fragile confidence and ongoing worry. Both of these are normal human reactions to a very abnormal situation.

Change is really hard sometimes, and as a global community, we've gone through a lot of it in a short time. COVID-19 has forced us all to make rapid adjustments in our life routines. Adjustment seems like a simple thing until you have to make 1,000 tiny changes to your everyday life. 

Ordering groceries online is easy. Calling a friend is easy. Staying home instead of going to a baseball game is easy. What's not easy is doing all these things and more for weeks on end. You'll go through these ups and downs many times as the months go by. These choices are all for the greater good, but it's hard to live this way. You are not failing. 

COVID-19 Living with Collective Grief 

The coronavirus crisis won’t last forever. At some point in the not-too-distant future, we will have the knowledge and tools to live with the virus and resume our lives. In the meantime, it’s more important than ever to understand the collective grief we feel. It’s real and it isn’t going anywhere for a while.

Life is hard right now, but you’ll get through it. We’ll all come out the other side together.


Sources

  1. Bell, Maya, and Jones Jr, Robert C. “Kobe Bryant’s Tragic Death Ignites Collective Grief,” News.miami.edu, January 28, 2020, news.miami.edu/stories/2020/01/kobe-bryants-tragic-death-ignites-collective-grief.html
  2. Thomas, Sherry, “Life after Trauma: It Takes a Community,” Thechicagoschool.edu, October 16, 2016, www.thechicagoschool.edu/insight/from-the-magazine/life-trauma-takes-community/
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