If you listen to any news source, the stories are grim. But, COVID-19 hit too close to home this weekend, and it got me to thinking about how to process grief when we can’t be with our loved ones in the hospital. And what if they die and we can’t say goodbye? Our dear friends are facing this situation right now.
My husband’s best friend works at an essential job, running a fuel station for the trucks that deliver necessary products to hospitals and supermarkets around the country. As the virus hit the East Coast, he went to work every day, doing his best to stay safe. With that in mind, he closed the small store at the station and allowed only the two people working to have access inside. So, they completed all the transactions through a plexiglass window.
Unfortunately, his co-worker had a compromised immune system and contracted the Coronavirus anyway. Our friend was exposed but asymptomatic at first. When the virus did hit him, it hit hard, zapping all his strength.
He was hospitalized for a couple of days then sent home. Within a day, his condition worsened, and the paramedics rushed him by ambulance back to the hospital. The doctors put him on a ventilator immediately. That’s where he still is today. We are praying that he can come off the vent and fully recover.
My heart breaks for his wife and daughter, who took care of him while he was at home. And now they are quarantined and hoping they don’t get it, too. And his other children and grandchildren are staying sequestered in their own homes, unable to support their parents and sister the way they used to do. Sad. Scary.
My Worst Nightmares
Being surrounded by strangers, knowing I may not make it. Dying alone without saying goodbye. Unable to be with my loved ones as they are fighting for their lives. Knowing they may be alone when their time comes. Wishing for that one last chance to hug them and say what’s in my heart and on my mind. Nightmares.
These scenarios are playing out all over the world today.
As I think about all the emotions our friends, and many others, are going through, I wonder how I would process grief in a similar situation. Although there are some things we can’t possibly totally prepare for, it helps me to ponder what I could do if I were living out one of those nightmares.
The Truth About Grief
One thing I know for sure is that the grief process will change your life. When you lose someone special, it leaves a hole in your heart. You won’t get over it or get past it. You just find ways to live with it.
As you uncover what works for you and begin to move forward, you will embark on a transformation process. You will start to discover who you will become on the other side of the grief process.
Especially in these times of COVID-19, preparing for the “what ifs” may not be such a bad idea because it can diminish the fear and panic and replace it with a sense of control.
Then, finding the silver lining and hoping for the best is where I want to land after I’ve created a viable plan that makes me feel calmer. But, first I have some work to do.
As I was thinking about some scenarios I might find myself in, I came up with a few ideas to help me process grief and try to see the other side. Sometimes, that’s all you can do.
When They Are In the Hospital
If loved ones are in the hospital, call the nurses station to solicit their help to communicate with your family members. Suggest that the nurse or aide hold the phone, so your loved one can hear you or see you. Even if they are unconscious and on a ventilator, let them hear your voice, and hear the words I love you.
If You Can’t Say Goodbye
It’s all too often we hear about people not surviving this virus. I imagine many family members are wishing they could have said a final goodbye, leaving them with a sense of regret. To make matters worse, attending a funeral may be out of the question.
Unfortunately, there is nothing we can do to change that—except to find other ways to say goodbye.
My mother was my best friend, and when she passed, I was not there to say goodbye. It haunted me for a while, until one day, I found tons of pictures of us and laid them out in front of me. I focused on the memories, the quiet moments together, our shared passions, and I said “goodbye” in many ways that afternoon.
Then, I decided to plant a tree in my backyard in her honor, and I imagine she is speaking to me when I sit by it. I followed that by hanging a picture of my mom in my home office, where I spend a lot of time. She watches over me. And, to this day, I feel especially connected to my mother.
Doing these things helped me to process my grief, which felt as if it had nowhere to go—until I created an outlet.
What To Do When You’re Alone
Processing grief is hard enough, but when circumstances force you to be alone in your sorrow, it can be excruciating. Talk, text, and video-visit with family and friends, so no one has to suffer alone—including you. It’s a great time to share stories, especially humorous ones, to lighten the mood and remember better times.
Getting Personal Support to Process Grief
If you’re like me, your family leans on you for strength. They expect you to be grounded and level-headed during uncertain times. So, who is taking care of you? Hopefully, it’s you.
When you’re grieving, too, it’s a challenge also to be the pillar of strength. Sharing your concerns and feelings with trusted friends and advisors who are not personally affected by the situation, is the best way I know to support myself at times like this.
Fueling your body with good food, enough rest, time alone, and time with loved ones will help you to feel more equipped to help others who may need you.
Private Time is Essential
Schedule me-time to grieve in private. During your sessions alone, you can break down and cry, rant-and-rave if that’s what you need, listen to soothing music or guided meditations. However you choose to spend this time, the goal is to come out of it feeling some relief from the burdens weighing you down.
Plan to do this regularly, so you continue to release a bit of the deep emotion each time. It will help you move through your own grief process.
Put Your Thoughts On Paper
If you are so inclined, you can do what I do. Work out the questions and concerns floating around in your head by writing them in a journal—or a blog.
Writing a eulogy can be cathartic. It may also help to share it with your family and friends who are grieving, too.
Express all that you’re thinking and feeling. Write in as much detail as you can muster, digging deep, and inviting insights to come through. The result can be enlightening and calming, revealing new approaches and solutions to help you process grief. On the other side, you may discover new ways to live with it.
What You Focus On Matters
Imagining the worst and wondering how it must have been for your loved one at the end, will create an emotional rut for you. It’s hard to process grief from a dark hole.
Focus on the life lived, rather than the manner of death. Spend your energy in ways that will support you instead of taking you down for the count. It helps me to know that I have choices between positive and negative thoughts and actions. Use that power of choice to the fullest.
Plan For When COVID-19 Is Behind Us
How will you bring the family together to celebrate life? What new perspectives will you bring forward to support you as you and your family evolve into a new normal? How did this whole experience shift your core values? These are some of the questions I’ve posed to myself.
Think about the changes you want to make when you are ‘free to move about the cabin’ again. Do you want to move to be closer to your family? Perhaps you want to find new ways to stay connected? How would you like to implement those changes? Who else do you want to involve in the decisions you have to make?
Making plans for the future, even if you are unable to execute them yet, instills hope in an otherwise dreary world of processing grief. Planning for what’s next gives you a sense of preparedness, even though you may not yet know what that looks like exactly.
Be Kind to Yourself
If you’ve ever been through any kind of grief before, you know that it comes and goes—sometimes like a tidal wave. Also, I suspect you have experienced its non-linear flow through the stages of denial, anger, depression, bargaining, and acceptance. You might bounce around those phases like a ping pong ball. It’s all normal. We all do a similar thing as we process grief.
If you remember nothing else, remember to have self-compassion. Processing grief is hard stuff. Honor the emotions and give them time to bubble up. When you are spending more time in the sadness and acceptance stage, use your plan to help keep the emotions in motion. Taking this approach will help you to slowly move forward, rather than staying stuck in one place.
Take the First Step
As you face adversity and live with uncertainty, you may not know how to move beyond it. You may even wonder if it’s possible. Making choices that move you forward can be hard, and getting some guidance may be just what you need. Start by exploring how change can impact you? And learn how to move through it with more dignity and grace by reading my free ebook, then let’s have a chat. Click here to take the first step: From Darkness to Light: Learning to Adapt to Change and Move Through Transition.
Excellent article, excellent advice! Thank you Maria and thank you for sharing your story with us. Very powerful. Prayers for your dear friends as well.
I wondered if you would ever write about Grief/Loss. Glad you did. Thank you for the free e-book. I will make an effort to read it. It seems as if you have covered all topics that entail a persons journey thru grief. I also hope the best for your friend. Being on a ventilator is not anyone’s choice. I have experience with that. Thank you Maria
I’m happy the article helped, Cheryl. Let your beautiful memories lift you so you can soar again.