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A Nation in Mourning - Processing Grief During the Pandemic

My heart goes out to my friends and countrymen from Nova Scotia, my home, the place I grew up in, as they receive news that only 5 people can attend the funerals for their loved ones. As a country, Canada is amazing at coming together in times of crisis and we are all coming together virtually during this one as we send our thoughts and prayers to those who are hurting today.

The question becomes how do we grieve during the coronavirus? Especially when we are currently grieving over so many things – over loss of jobs, loss of activities, loss of physical contact with others, loss of entertainment, loss of loved ones and the list goes on of all the things we’ve lost since the start of the Coronavirus. We are a nation grieving.

The grieving process is one of those parts of life that feels awful and we try to avoid it. Usually we are able to stuff those feelings down by staying busy and keeping our mind from lingering too long on our losses.

Grief has to be felt.

When grief is ignored or suppressed it pops up somewhere else. Maybe not that minute or even that day, some people can successfully suppress it for years and then one day it all comes out and it scares them as they can’t figure out what is happening. Today, I’d like to take some of the unknown out it so that you can give yourself permission to grieve during this time and then not have the burden of carrying it with you.

The process of grief is often referred to as “stages” but that is a misnomer because that lead us to thinking we can move through each one and then move onto the next one like ticking off check boxes. Unfortunately, we can feel all of them at the same time or at different moments. Grief is more like a roller coaster where you can’t see what’s up ahead and it continues to toss you around. The emotions we feel during grief are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.

Denial: Generally, this is when our minds are refusing to believe it is real. This is very evident during the coronavirus crisis as people continue to take risks by hanging out with friends or saying to others they don’t believe the statistics or the news, or they don’t trust the government and it is not really that big of deal.

Anger: This can be anger at self, others, organizations, or inanimate objects. This anger flares appearing not to have a reason and when you look back at it often you wonder why that insignificant thing ticked you off so badly.

Bargaining: The normal reaction to feelings of helplessness and vulnerability is often a need to regain control through a series of “If only” statements. Statements like, if only the government had listened sooner, we would not have to stay in isolation so long or we would have flattened the curve sooner and less people would have it.

Depression: There are two types of depression associated with grief. The first is the sadness over the practical implications related to the loss. This includes trying to figure out how we are going to financially cope or trying to figure out new ways to keep our kids busy at home. The second is the sadness over the loss.

Acceptance: This part of grief comes in pieces as we can accept the loss, as we implement practical changes to our lives but at the same time are bouncing around the other parts of grief. Acceptance is gradual and helps in the healing process.

Understanding a little about grief is the first step to starting the process. As a nation grieving together, it is important to remember to give yourself permission to feel your emotions, think about them and express them to others. Acknowledging your thoughts and emotions helps your brain process the situation and clear your thoughts. Writing it out often helps in this process. Christine Bergsma has created guided journals to help people through different life events including her newest one for Covid-19, as well as, one specifically for grief.

Another way to help each other through this is to reach out to each other. Call a friend let them know how you are feeling and ask them how they are. It is also important to do something special to mark the moment. At 7 pm each night, my neighbours have been faithfully banging on pots and pans to support first responders, which is their way of formally coming together in this time. Other ways are taking a moment of silence for the people in Nova Scotia or gathering your housemates for a moment together in remembrance.

If you are struggling with the weight of all this loss, I am here to help. Our practice has moved to an online video format so that we can keep you safe and still meet with you to help you through this situation. If you would like to meet with one of us, please call 519-601-HELP.

May God continue to provide support and give our neighbours comfort while we are unable to hug and cry with them.


Registered Psychotherapist


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