How to grieve in a socially-distanced world

By The Space Between Us
The rituals of grieving are shifting before our eyes during the Covid-19 pandemic. But how do we cope with loss and grief in a socially-distanced world?

Grief has always been what so many describe as an almost unbearable agony. Losing someone you love, or even losing a way of life as you know it is a lot for one person to take on. But dealing with death during a pandemic, losing someone during lockdown, and grieving alone during Covid-19 has added whole new dimensions to the grieving process. And if you’re hurting and feeling lost or hollow or overwhelmed right now, we’re here to help. So take a few quiet moments for yourself as we gently guide you through new ways of finding a little healing.

There is no ‘right’ way to grieve
Let’s start with something that hasn’t changed. And that is, clinical psychologist Linda Mthenjane assures us that the grieving process is not linear. There is no set of boxes that you need to tick, there are no rules you should be following, and there is no one way you ‘should’ be feeling. This is a deeply personal journey, unique to each individual, and so there is no right or wrong way to grieve. 

Many people find the five stages of grief (the Kübler-Ross model outlining denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance) as a helpful guide to what they might expect, but grief can often be untidy and unpredictable. Whatever you’re going through, acknowledge your experiences and your emotions. You’re feeling whatever you’re feeling for a reason. Allow those feelings and experiences to unfold in a way that you are comfortable with.

Remember that we are honouring our living, too
As far back as history remembers we have always honoured our dead. And while traditional leaders and religious figures still honour the transition from this life to the other, they are also now trying to protect the living in the pandemic. In that way, the funeral ceremony, perhaps, honours both the living and the dead in equal measures more than ever before. 
And so, in the midst of our grief, let’s carry that sentiment in our hearts, too … that while we’re saying goodbye to a loved one who has passed, we’re also protecting the loved ones still with us. It’s a more empowering way to frame our perspectives and help us find new ways to say goodbye.

There are other ways to say goodbye
Funeral and burial traditions are a bridge between the death of the ones we love and the new meaning we must find in a life carved out of that loss, and Mthenjane encourages us all to find ways to create meaning in death that honours our loved ones. “It’s your last act of loving that person,” she says, “and your way to transform their suffering to eternal love.” 

Thankfully, technology is almost endless in the way it can evoke a sense of unity and community. You may not be able to have an open house anymore but you can have a virtual open house with an active link so that family and friends can still ‘drop in’ and pay their respects. You could host an online memorial event, a prayer group, or take turns in singing or sharing hymns. This is not the first time in history that we’ve had to reshape traditions during a crisis; we can find courage in the fact that we are incredibly creative and adaptable beings, even in our anguish.

Create new rituals
Rituals have always brought us a sense of safety, stability, and comfort. Dealing with death during a pandemic may mean that so many of our time-honoured rituals have been washed away but it doesn’t mean that we can’t find solace in new rituals. Because the true power of a ritual lies in what the ritual offers us on an emotional and psychological level. 

A ritual can help us recognise change. It’s a way of being still, of opening ourselves to the moment, of reflecting on what we hold dear, and gently accepting our new reality and all the emotions that come with it. Rituals don’t have to be extravagant or elaborate. Planting a tree can be an empowering and life-affirming ritual that can bring years of comfort and beauty as we continue to nourish new life. Lighting candles at a certain time of day or night is another invaluable practice in ritualising grief in the way that it helps us acknowledge our loss. Mthenjane also suggests journaling as a ritual, or creating a dedicated space in a room for quiet moments of reflection. Remember, it is the intention with which you perform the ritual that matters most.

Make it sacred
Losing someone during Covid-19 means we’re dealing with loss in a world where everyone feels separated. Mourning can be a confusing and alienating experience, and so it is more important than ever that we make a conscious effort to keep connected with others. We are social beings, and the very act of sharing our experiences with others, spreading the burden across many shoulders, can give us a little space to breathe. And when we’re truly present, our moments of connectivity are made all the more sacred. 

Storytelling and sharing memories is an age-old way to help us reconcile our grief and shift through the swirl of our own complex emotions. Mthenjane says, “Because grieving is such an individual process, there’s no way of knowing which memories will hurt less to think about, or when. So allow the space to retell the story until a new frame emerges.” Expression is healthy and helps us normalise our feelings. It also helps, Mthenjane says, to know that we’re not strange or “odd” – that our feelings are valid and that this is a real wound we have experienced.

No matter what new rituals you create, or how you choose to express your grief in this socially distanced world, remember that even though you might be feeling like you’re grieving alone during Covid-19, there is always help and guidance available. The Dealing with Loss webinar is invaluable to help you navigate your loss, while therapy can help you restore a new sense of mental health, resilience, and wellbeing. You are not alone.