When a loved one dies suddenly and unexpectedly due to complications from COVID-19, there can be some unique challenges in coming to terms with this type of death. Some of those challenges come in the form of accepting that your loved one’s no longer there. These types of deaths are often fast and unbelievable, leaving you to wonder if it happened.
Coping with grief after someone dies of COVID-19 may leave you lost and confused as you move through the pain of your suffering. The following may help you or someone you love overcome some of the biggest challenges left behind when your loved one has died of COVID-19.
1. Understand the Grieving Process
The grieving process for those who’ve suffered a death due to COVID-19 is quite different from other types of loss. You can anticipate particular challenges when trying to reconcile the death of someone who has succumbed to this disease that relates not only to the cause of death but to how swift death comes for some.
Like most grief types, you can expect to struggle with cognitive, emotional, behavioral, and spiritual challenges. On the mental side, you may experience a loss of focus and difficulty with completing tasks. Emotional and behavioral difficulties may come in the form of breakdowns when least expected, lashing out, or withdrawing from others. And spiritually, you may find that you’ve lost hope and are having difficulty reconciling with why your loved one has died.
Other reasons why this type of death will be more challenging to cope with are because:
- The death was unanticipated
- Death may have happened quickly
- You were separated from your loved one
- You were unable to say goodbye in person
- You may never get to see or hold your loved one again
2. Identify Your Feelings
As with most deaths, once you get the news that your loved one has died, you can expect to feel some level of shock, sadness, and guilt. It may take a few days or weeks to process their death fully. During this time, you can expect to go through a roller coaster of emotions. Sometimes, you may even lack emotion, and that will also seem confusing to you.
Take the time to identify what you’re feeling and the reasons why you might be feeling that way. For example, if you’re feeling devoid of emotion, consider the relationship you had with the person who’s died and how that may contribute to the way you’re feeling.
3. Accept Your Feelings
Holding back your feelings causes pent up emotions to manifest later as a form of complicated grief. This type of bereavement is known as prolonged grief and is more difficult to cope with. To accept your feelings means not only identifying your feelings but knowing why you’re feeling that way and accepting them as part of the grieving process.
If you feel like breaking down and crying, it’s not only healthy to do so, but it’ll make you feel better afterward. Crying releases emotions that may be weighing you down. It also allows you to express your grief feelings, which is a natural part of the healing process.
4. Know the Stages of Grieving
Most people who are bereaved and are grieving the death of a loved one will go through some or all of the more common stages of grief. These stages don’t always show up in everyone who has suffered a loss, and some people will never experience any of these emotions.
Others may suffer through these stages in a non-linear fashion throughout their grief process.
- Shock and denial
5. Find Closure
When you’re unable to see your loved one before they die, or even afterward when they are being laid to rest, it’s difficult to accept that they’ve died. Not seeing the body in the casket can leave you confused and unsure if that’s your loved one who they’ve buried, as is the case with sealed coffins.
For many people, this has been the reality because of the physical separation from their loved ones. Precautionary protocols at hospitals, nursing facilities, and funeral homes have made it nearly impossible to be with your loved ones after they’ve been admitted due to COVID-19.
Not attending to a dying loved one in the hospital or other facility makes it difficult for your brain to process and accept their death. Many people are never ready to take the news that their loved one has died, let alone have to accept it as real without the physical proof that it happened. Finding closure under these circumstances is challenging, yet it’s essential to your overall healing from grief. Whenever possible, ask the hospital or other staff to take pictures, share videos, or Livestream as their body is being prepared for the next steps.
6. Honor Your Grief
Many circumstances are unique to this type of loss. Death due to COVID-19 is not processed the same as for other causes of death. At a hospital or other type of institutional setting, their protocols are much different. In fact, these protocols can leave you confused and distressed from not being able to attend to your loved one in person or able to grieve your loss alongside your family.
You’ll undoubtedly have many questions that the person delivering the news may not have the answers to. Allowing yourself to mourn the loss of your loved one is a form of honoring your grief. These are painful losses to have to endure for anyone under any circumstances.
To ease some pain of not being physically present, think of what to say to a terminally ill loved one as they’re nearing their end of life and writing it down in a letter. Express to them how you’re feeling, what you would have wanted to say, and later bury the message somewhere special.
7. Seek Professional Help
Sometimes, even after you’ve gone through all of the grief rituals and you’ve allowed yourself to grieve, it may still not be enough for you to accept that your loved one has died. As with every type of grief, you can expect your pain and sorrow to begin diminishing after the first year following their death. If you find that your suffering is not subsiding after the first year, consider online therapy or counseling to help you with the healing process.
If this type of counseling is not your style, or you’re afraid to try it, consider reaching out to a pastor or chaplain to help you reconcile your loved one’s death alongside your spiritual beliefs and practices. Normal grief that’s left untreated may turn into more complicated grief that is more difficult to emerge from. Spiritual grief and bereavement counseling are alternatives to traditional therapy and can have lasting positive effects on your psychological and spiritual well-being.
8. Understand Prolonged Grief Disorder
Prolonged grief disorder is a type of severe, unrelenting grief that lasts for six months or more and makes it difficult to function. Typically this type of grief shares the same characteristics of normal grief but is more likely to develop when death is sudden and unexpected. People who experience this type of distress in COVID-19-related deaths usually lack a healthy support system.
Prolonged grief typically manifests when you’re not able to say goodbye to your loved one in person or from not participating in certain death rituals like bathing, grooming, and preparing the body for burial or being unable to attend your loved one’s funeral.
9. Gather Your Support Group
Dealing with COVID-19 related grief is difficult to endure on your own. Consider asking your friends, family, or community to help you as you go through the motions of grieving.
Collective grief, or one that’s influenced by culture and tradition, is essential when unable to gather with your loved ones in person. Consider virtual meetups, texting, or calling one another to lend support.
10. Hold a Memorial Service
Honoring your loved one’s life is an integral part of the grieving process, even when unable to meet in person. Consider scheduling a memorial service for a later date when everyone can be together. You can also hold a virtual one through Zoom, Facetime, or other platforms that allow for multiple persons to hop onto a scheduled video conferencing call.
Some other options include a drive-thru memorial service, one held in an open field like a park or large backyard where you’re able to maintain social distancing as required by your local ordinances.
11. Take Care of Yourself
The effects of grief can be debilitating. During the initial stages, you’ll likely be in a state of shock and disbelief and may find yourself unable to handle even the most routine of daily activities. Keep in mind that it may be challenging to look after yourself during this time, your grooming and hygiene, and your diet and nutrition.
If you’re unable to care for yourself during the initial period following your loved one’s death, enlist the help of your loved ones to help you with essential meal preparation. Ask them to nudge you when it’s apparent that you need a shower and fresh clothes.
You can read our guide on self care and grief for more ideas.
Coping With Grief of COVID-19 Death
Experiencing the death of a loved one due to COVID-19 can leave you with prolonged grief that is non-linear and unpredictable.
As with most types of death, grief is more difficult to deal with on certain days, dates, and times of the year. Taking things one day at a time will make it more manageable to cope with the pain and suffering after experiencing such a loss.
If you're looking for more on dealing with grief, read our guides on grief counseling for teens and grief triggers.