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Grief and Loss in the Time of Coronavirus

By Becki Cohn-Vargas April 09, 2020 Mindset

“Embrace your grief, for there your soul will grow.” – Carl Jung

“We all grieve in different ways. Mine is probably different from most people,” my sister explained her need for privacy to the Rabbi after our father died at 93 of complications from pneumonia on January 4, 2020. From January to April the world has changed.

A World of Grief

As our family continues to grieve our father, now with the pandemic, there is grief all around us. People are experiencing many different forms of grief as they lose loved ones or cannot be together with loved ones who are suffering.

Each day, I learn of different challenges:

  • A friend’s sister-in-law was just diagnosed with ovarian cancer.
  • Another friend, who was helping a relative recover from a liver transplant in India, is stuck there and cannot return to her family in Washington DC.
  • A friend who cannot visit her 100-year-old Russian aunt who speaks no English and is in a nursing home in the US.
  • An undocumented friend and her husband with no source of income who cannot apply for emergency aid.

My own daughter just had a very difficult labor and birth this week, 500 miles away, and I could not be there to help because I am over 65 with a pre-existing condition.

The Losses Only Pile Up

There are other losses from non-life-threatening situations that can also impact us deeply: postponed graduations, missed family gatherings, and even the cancelation of a planned trip abroad.

Daily experiences have disrupted our lives in smaller ways like getting a haircut or going to church or synagogue. There is no hierarchy of pain; no misery Olympics to determine who is suffering more.

Therapist Lori Gottlieb says that some of these losses get pushed inside, and we fear others will judge them as insignificant and expect us to “buck up.”

Stages of Grief

Many of us know about Kübler-Ross’s stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Research validates the presence of these stages while some question the sequence of reactions.

Another approach, the “tasks of grieving,” offers more of a menu of responses that are similar to Kubler-Ross’s stages. Along with emotions, there are physical conditions: tiredness, tightness and constriction in the body, increased short-term memory loss (blanking on people’s names) or even tunnel vision (losing peripheral vision and awareness of things around you).

A different selection from the menu is prepared for us daily by our inner selves.

What Can We Do?

Here are a few tips on handling your feelings of grief and loss.

Allow Grief to Surface

When it arises in ourselves and others, we can recognize our own, our family’s, and friend’s stress responses. Cry, if you need to, write about it, share it with someone you trust. Your feelings are real, and in the long run, you will heal when you acknowledge and accept them as part of life.

Live in the Present

Being is more important than doing.

We are in a very difficult moment, and if we can just “be,” we will feel less anxious and take the needed steps to move ahead. While it may be hard to try to not worry about the future, staying in the present means to take care of ourselves.

We can let feelings emerge but avoid imagining the worst possible scenarios. We can adjust our expectations for productivity and prioritize being present by meditating and practicing trauma-informed mindfulness practices. If you have trouble meditating, try doing Zentangle, a simple and calming art form.

No Judgment

Try not to judge others in how they are handling their feelings or managing their sense of loss. Grief is very personal. For each of us, our personal sense of loss at this moment may be different, but sharing with others in non-judgmental ways will help.

Find Gratitude in Grief

Three months after my dad died, some days grief comes in waves of emotion. At other times, grief feels frozen inside, unreachable. Even after a day that had felt completely normal, grief rears its ugly head. On other days, I feel acceptance and life is moving on.

While I continue to grieve, I am grateful that we were able to be at my father’s side to ensure he knew he was loved and sing to him as he struggled to breathe. Even that may not be possible for people who are separated from a loved one at this moment. Yet, we can still find gratitude in our hearts for their lives.

Also, I am grateful that our newborn grandson, Anteo, is safely home with his parents after a few days in neonatal ICU. As we open our hearts, we feel, we find healing, and by reaching out to others, we find support or simply a compassionate ear.

As Brene Brown said, “You do not have to do it alone. We were never meant to…” and, “Vulnerability is the birthplace of courage. And courage is not doing something because you are fearless. Courage is doing something because you may be afraid, and you do it anyway.”

How do you handle the grief and loss that is everywhere around you? What are you grieving? What losses are you experiencing in this troubling time? What can you be grateful for despite the circumstances? Please share with our community and let’s have a conversation.

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The Author

Becki Cohn-Vargas, Ed.D, has been blogging regularly for Sixty and Me since 2015. She is a retired educator and independent consultant. She's the co-author of three books on identity safe schools where students of all backgrounds flourish. Becki and her husband live in the San Francisco Bay Area and have three adult children and one grandchild. You can connect with her at the links below.

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