By Michelle F. Moseley, MS, LCMHC, NCC (she/her)
Loss and grief are inevitable parts of the human experience; however, the year 2020 has been filled with more than its fair share of loss. There have been all types of loss in the past 12 months. Some of these include loss of loved ones due to COVID-19, loss of celebrations for that wedding or birthday you spent time planning, loss of senior sports seasons, proms, and graduations, loss of connection with others beyond a screen, loss of jobs, and loss of feelings of security. We have all dealt with specific losses during this time, and we are all dealing with ongoing grief for the loss of our sense of normalcy.
How can we manage our own grief, and offer support to others who have experienced loss? First of all, we must acknowledge that grief is grief. There is no hierarchy of loss and grief; when you are experiencing the effects of any type of loss, it is painful and grief is a natural response.
A variety of emotions may be part of the grief process – sadness, anger, disgust, love, envy, acceptance, and others. These emotions will likely not arise in a linear way, and may vary day to day or even hour to hour. Acknowledge them, allow them to exist as reminders that what has been lost was important and that you are figuring out how to move forward with that loss as part of your life story.
Some may struggle with taking care of basic needs following a loss. As a friend/partner/family member, you can make concrete efforts to assist with this. This may include ensuring easy-to-prepare food is readily available, encouraging regular hydration and sleep, offering to sit or walk outside with them to allow for fresh air and sunlight, helping them engage in previously enjoyed activities, or being the contact person for others if your loved one isn’t up for social interaction. Remember, you are there to support them through their grief; their loss is not a problem to be solved.
There are many ways to process grief and reconstruct your life following loss. If you are grieving, allow yourself to have freedom in your grief process. If you are supporting someone through loss, honor their freedom to grieve and move forward in their own way.
Some people may want to avoid news and/or social media while dealing with a loss, feeling that a constant stream of information is too much to take. Some may choose to plan some type of memorial or alternative event as part of their process of dealing with a loss. Some people may want to talk about their loss regularly, while others may prefer to have conversations about other things more often. Some people may not mention the loss for a period, and then bring it up at seemingly random time.
Follow the lead of the grieving person. Take initiative to check in on them via phone calls, texts, or visits, but make it clear they have the freedom to ask you to stop or decrease frequency. When they talk about their loss, allow space for their words and emotions – just listen, they are not looking for a solution as their grief is not a problem. When they don’t talk about the loss, remember they have not forgotten. A mother who lost her young adult son once told me, “I appreciate when people talk about him. I haven’t forgotten he’s gone, and that lets me know they haven’t forgotten either.”
Follow the grieving person’s lead in making comments related to spiritual beliefs. The idea of a loved one “being in a better place” or “no longer suffering” may be comforting for some when dealing with death, yet those statements can feel dismissive to others who are facing the loss of a loved one. The idea that “everything happens for a reason” may offer hope to some, yet communicate judgment to
others. Pay attention to how they speak of spiritual beliefs in regards to their loss, and use their language. Remember, the goal at this time is to support your loved one as they move forward in their grieving process.
In this time of such a variety of losses, some people might need additional support from a mental health professional to help them navigate their grief. Behavioral Healthcare Associates, LLC (BHA) is a comprehensive mental health practice with several experienced licensed therapists and a Board-Certified Child/Adolescent and General Psychiatrist available to assess and treat general mental health and substance abuse concerns. If you or someone you know might need support in dealing with grief, or assistance with other emotional and behavioral issues, please contact us at 919-292-1464 to schedule an appointment, or find more information at our website http://www.behavioralhealthcareassociates.org