GRIEF IN THE TIME OF CORONAVIRUS: Why do I feel even worse now?

As a bereavement therapist, I have noticed that many of my clients are feeling much worse, and overwhelmed in terms of their grief, with this Coronavirus crisis. Even though it may be quite disconcerting to feel this way, it is completely normal and understandable to have these feelings flare up during this uncertain time. Hopefully explaining why this can happen will help you understand it and feel a bit better knowing that you are not alone in this way. Here are some common thoughts:

“I need my main support person to get through this”

Was your loved one your “go to” person when you needed help? The one you relied upon to always make things better? The one who made a plan and took action during a bad situation? The one who called or texted you often to see how you were doing? If so, it is understandable why not having them here during this crisis is so difficult. Everything would be easier to manage if you had them here…another way that the mourning gets kicked back up with missing them.

“I was already feeling pretty low”

To begin with, you are coming into this crisis already feeling “low” and just trying to find your way back to some sense of normalcy. There is no timeline to your grief but suffice it to say, it takes a long time. And now this. Just like you experienced when your loss was fresh, once again everything seems like a huge challenge. And although you weren’t “getting over” your grief (because we don’t “get over” grief, we move through it), maybe you were starting to manage your feelings around it and find a “new normal” of coping and living with your loss. This crisis, however, just throws you back into that same challenging place.

“I feel so lonely”

Perhaps because of the social distancing, quarantining, and isolation requirements you find yourself alone, away from some of the support systems that you relied upon to manage your grief. Grief is already one of the most lonely, isolating and singular experiences. This just takes it to a whole new level.

“There are reminders everywhere”

Maybe you have temporarily moved back to your family home, or you are a parent whose children have moved back in with you. Being together like this highlights the reality that one very important person is missing from this equation. You experience these intense feelings at family meals, tv time, in every room, and in countless other ways. This is not necessarily a bad thing…but it just puts your grief right back in your face.

“There are intense triggers as I live with my significant other’s family”

You may be quarantined with someone else’s family during this time. In being in their home, you may be bombarded with seeing their close ties…and although you may know it is a nice thing to see, it becomes a constant reminder of something you once had.

“I cannot deal with hearing my friends complain…I have been feeling similar things since my loved one died!”

Everyone is now in mourning together…mourning the life they had before this crisis in terms of their safety, security, social life, sense of invincibility, freedom, relative calm, financial security, carefree life, a plan for the future etc. These are things you have been dealing with for a while and even if your friends were “there for you” you may now feel a bit bothered that they are finally understanding you and what you went through.

“On the one hand, I am happy my loved one didn’t have to experience this. On the other, not having them here is one more “thing” that I won’t experience with them.”

Although this is not a “milestone” like a graduation, an engagement, wedding, birthday, job promotion, birth of a child, etc., it does bring up the feeling that time keeps on going. And their time in your life can feel even more distant as a result. You may also be wondering how they would feel if they had been here.

“I am so busy dealing with this crisis that I often forget to think about my loved one who died”

I have heard that it feels like grief has been put on hold…that this Coronavirus situation has moved front and center and taken over all other thoughts like mourning and grief. Quite often, this can lead to feelings of guilt over what can feel like “forgetting” your loved one. To reassure you, however, it may be comforting to know that you are managing and prioritizing your stressors in an effort to just get through this. Once this settles down a bit, I can assure you that your lost loved one will not be forgotten by you.

Hopefully, sharing some of these common thoughts has helped you realize you are not alone or bizarre for having these reactions. And as much as this crisis has made things more difficult in many ways, there are some silver linings. Some have felt comforted to know their loved one was spared from this situation…especially if they had a health issue that would have made this so much more complicated and scary. Some have mentioned that having this time to “pause” on their lives has given them more time for reflection and doing the necessary grieving that their busy lives did not afford them. Many were comforted to be quarantined with family and go through this with one another, maybe even using this as an opportunity to talk more about their loved ones.

Lesley Kelman Koeppel, LCSW

Lesley Koeppel is a Clinical Social Worker who has been working in the field for more than 25 years. She graduated from the University of Michigan with a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology and New York University with a Masters of Social Work. She maintains a private practice in NYC where she helps her clients achieve their life goals. Her expertise in support groups, individual counseling and oncology helps provide her patients with a unique compassion, understanding and direct approach. She began her career working with oncology patients at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center and running support groups for patients dealing with leukemia and lymphoma. She continues to run those same support groups at The Bone Marrow & Cancer Foundation.

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Lesley Koeppel

Therapist/Clinical Social Worker who has been working in the field for more than 25 years.