Aug. 30 is National Grief Awareness Day. If you’ve lost a loved one recently because of COVID-19 or any other reason, you likely haven’t been able to grieve the way you normally would. You might have been unable to be by your loved one’s side because of restrictions designed to stop the spread of infection. This separation only adds to your grief and sadness.

Coping with grief during the pandemic

When COVID-19 hit, like most of the world, I constantly worried about my aging parents contracting it. Virus or not, I already know our time together on this Earth is limited. But still, that’s the one call I’m not ready for.

A call did come one early morning in April. But it wasn’t the one I’d expected. My oldest sister had suffered a hemorrhagic stroke. In simpler terms, this is when blood from an artery bleeds into the brain. She was taken to the local emergency room and life-flighted to another hospital, surviving solely on life support. The doctors said they’d never seen a bleed as bad as hers. They did not expect her to recover.

That night, I said what I feared were my last goodbyes to my sister on the phone.

My heart felt like it’d been completely ripped apart. I crumpled to the floor, awash in a fresh flood of tears as my husband and stepson held me tight. I took the first flight out the next day to be with my family and as close to my sister’s side as I could get.

I wouldn’t make it in time to ever see my sister alive again. She passed away, 56 years young. She left behind not only me, my two sisters, and our parents but also a husband, four sons, three daughters-in-law, and six beautiful grandchildren. And so many more who loved her.

How COVID-19 kept us from grieving

Black and white photo of woman standing by window

Losing someone you love is extremely painful. Coupled with COVID-19, it’s a nightmare.

Grief is a deeply personal and intimate journey, but we aren’t meant to travel it alone. Because of COVID-19 restrictions on the number of people allowed to gather, in addition to social distancing, we were limited in how and who we could share our grief with.

Large gatherings were banned, so the community did a drive-by procession at her family’s home. We were able to hold a viewing, but only in groups of 10 or fewer at a time. When we finally had a funeral nearly three months later, it tore open old wounds that time had been gracious enough to start healing.

Ways to cope with grief during COVID-19

If you’re on the receiving end of grief during the pandemic, here are few helpful things to keep in mind.

Connect with friends and family

  • Invite people to call you, or host conference calls with family members and friends to stay connected.
  • Ask family and friends to share stories and pictures with you via letters, email, text, video chat, or social media platforms or apps that allow groups to share with each other.
  • Make a memory book, blog, or website to honor your loved one, and ask family and friends to contribute their memories and stories.
  • Take part in an activity, such as planting a tree or preparing a favorite meal, that has significance to you and the loved one who died.

Ask for help from others

  • Seek out grief counseling, support groups, or hotlines, especially those that can be offered over the phone or online.
  • Seek spiritual support from faith-based organizations, including your religious leaders and congregations, if applicable.
  • Seek support from a mental health professional or your health practitioner.

It will get better — it just takes time

Grieving is a highly individual experience, meaning there’s no right or wrong way to grieve. There’s also no timetable for grieving. Healing happens gradually and cannot be hurried. Give yourself grace and compassion to grieve at your own pace.

If you are grieving, let me leave you with this personal note of hopeful inspiration: Grief is not forever. There will be a day when you wake up and the sadness is not the first thing you feel. When that day comes, may you start to remember your loved one with happiness and joy in your heart for all the memories you made together.

Be well, my friends.