Reflections on how to cope
Losing somebody you care about is one of life’s most significant challenges. We feel the pain of their absence when grieving, and the profound sense of life’s finitude. The journey through this pain can be complicated. Our unique relationships are a kaleidoscope of memories and ever-evolving details of our personal lives.
Over many centuries, the Irish have developed sophisticated ways of navigating the sometimes thorny path of death and grieving. Through these ways, people could find closure with the support of their family and friends. Through these ancient customs, they could reconcile their memories with the future and importantly, be there to support one another. Many of our uniquely Irish death rituals help us, during these difficult periods of our lives. These customs range from the community rallying around sharing food and making copious cups of tea. Or gathering in homes or local pubs to wake and celebrate the memory of the one we hold dear. These rituals provide a powerful symbol of support, comfort and healing. Especially for those most touched by the crushing weight of grief from loss.
Coping with the changes to our grieving traditions
It is hard to lose someone under normal circumstances, but the global pandemic has unfortunately introduced additional complications. When we have the freedom to travel, gather, mourn collectively and participate in our traditional healing rituals; we can respectfully bid farewell to our loved ones with the support of others. Beautiful mourning traditions help us psychologically process and come to terms with the parting of someone we hold dear.
COVID has changed how we grieve
Even those who are not grieving have experienced the challenges of restrictions in movement due to the pandemic. The inability to mourn the death of a loved one, with our friends and family can be particularly difficult. This is compounded by the isolation of the ill, in hospitals or nursing homes. Many folk are alone in their final days and hours. Under the most severe restrictions, family members have been denied access to their loved ones completely. Often having to say goodbye through a window or via a tablet or telephone.
Many of our funeral rites are interrupted with restrictions on movement and stay at home orders in place. Where funerals have been able to take place, not all family and friends, have been able to attend, as a result of the pandemic. The immense power of the communal spirit of support has been diminished. Those accessing the funeral virtually often regret not being present. When families cannot travel to be together and comfort one another, it can add to the pain of mourning.
Grieving has been a struggle during this pandemic
The fatalities arising from the pandemic and the necessary health restrictions can compound the experience of loss. By distancing us from our community, raising fears and preventing us from following our established traditions. Through this, it may be harder to navigate the natural pathway of grieving. The protracted and global nature of this pandemic has meant no one has been untouched by it. The sorrow and grief we have all known, strikes us at the heart of what it means to be human.
The stark reality is that we are suffering an enormous loss that confronts us daily through the news updates. The numbers may not always feel real. But, behind every statistic is a fellow human being with a family and friends.
Loss can take time to get through
The pain of loss is compounded by the reality of being denied the opportunity to pay traditional respects. This also stops us and being unable to support those left behind in customary ways. These extraordinary circumstances can give rise to genuine existential crises for many of us. How do we find a way to pay our respects to those who have died this year? They have not been given the proper send-off they deserve? How can we contribute to a supportive process of grieving for those touched by this tragedy? What could help us to process our grief collectively?
Psychologists distinguish between post-traumatic stress and post-traumatic growth. In post-traumatic stress scenarios, a traumatic event that threatens our survival can lead to maladaptive responses. With longer-term adverse ripple effects for our #mentalhealth. However, in post-traumatic growth, the individual’s response to the same or similar traumatic life event is very different. In this scenario, the individual thrives and can leverage their experience as a resource into the future. So what assists post-traumatic growth versus post-traumatic stress responses?
Emotional turmoil is normal when grieving
Environmental factors such as grieving rituals and community support have a critical role to play. A sense of belonging and connection with others who share our loss contributes to resilience. This develops constructive and future-oriented perspectives, grounded in healthy relationships and communication. Traditional practices associated with grieving are essential to support individuals. It helps not to slip into maladaptive coping strategies in the face of their experience of loss and related trauma. Our coping mechanisms interrupted by the pandemic. So we must find creative ways to continue to meet the needs of those in our communities who are grieving.
Stay connected while you are grieving
Those experiencing loss right now and are physically alone, I encourage you to try to connect with others, virtually. Know that you are not alone. Ask for what you need. Remember that the vulnerability we experience due to a significant loss generates a natural call for social support and bonding. It is perfectly okay to want to talk or not or cry or not. Gathering in regular times helps us to do this emotional processing together. Under the current Lockdown scenario, connecting with others even briefly through a phone call can help you stay well.
24/7 listening #helplines are also a resource that you can access if you are feeling low. Services like the Samaritans on freephone #116 123 or crisis text. This is a 24 hr online text-based service on 50808. In time your grieving experience will change. If you feel you need help, you can also contact your GP for assistance or advice.
For sum, feeling the distance of not connecting with friends who are grieving is hard. I encourage you to be creative about finding ways to stay in touch. It is very important to find alternative ways to maintain connections during these socially distanced periods. Especially with those made more vulnerable due to bereavement.
Small acts of kindness go a long way
Everything does not need to be remote. I suggest small acts can go a long way to help someone struggling with loss. Support with running errands or deliveries, assisting with unfinished issues. Just being a friend that calls to say hello. Or someone who drops a note to say that you care for them. These little caring acts of kindness can be a source of #hope and upliftment, especially on a dark day.
Let us #be kind. Let us #connect in whatever way we can right now; this is one thing that is within all of our power to do. It costs nothing, but can make all the difference to another human being’s life and grief experience. Reaching out can be a lifesaver!
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