Change creates loss; grief is a result of experiencing this loss. In today’s COVID-19-plagued world grief is rife, not only because people have lost loved ones, but also because we have lost hands-learning, our routines, the liberty to attend celebrations or rituals, the freedom to express ourselves through physical and social interaction, and much of our financial stability.
On 4th of June, Veronqiue Rothemberger, Client Relationship Manager at Workforce Healthcare, took Eduweb participants through the stages of experiencing grief. She gave practical insights into what it is to experience grief and coping mechanisms in moving through the grief journey.
What is grief?
- Grief is our response to the loss of anything we value and will have an impact on us physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually.
- It is a part of being human as we experience change and loss in our lives.
- It is an automatic and necessary way of working through and coming to terms with loss.
- It is a personal experience, unique to each person and so is not open to comparison with another’s experience of grief.
Common reactions to grief
In some cases, human beings’ reactions to grief are the same as those experienced when they are depressed or experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). It is important to know that without going through the grieving process a person may move into full-blown depression or PTSD. Common reactions to grief include:
- Emotional: Numbness, shock, anger, hopelessness, helplessness, anxiety, loneliness, sadness.
- Physical: Fatigue or exhaustion, muscle tension and pain, headaches or dizziness, change in sleep patterns or appetite, high blood pressure, tightness in chest, rapid heart beat.
- Behavioural: Blame or questioning, forgetfulness, change in levels of activity, self-neglect, increased substance abuse.
- Cognitive: Denial, disbelief, short-term memory loss, confusion, preoccupation with the grief event, trying to make sense of the loss, difficulty making decisions, increase or decrease in dreaming
- Beliefs/Spirituality: Searching for reasons, disbelief, replaying the event over and over again.
COVID-19 has changed the way grief is quantified
The magnitude of change and loss experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic has given rise to new ways in which grief is perceived. These are:
- Collective grief: This is a loss event shared by a group or community. For example, people have not been able to meet in places of worship during lockdown.
- Anticipatory grief: This is anticipation of a future loss or uncertainty about an impending loss. People already feel grief in expectation of loss and do not know how to deal with it. People can experience the symptoms of PTSD in anticipation of a loss.
- Disenfranchised grief: This occurs when families and communities are unable to grieve a loss through their traditional practices. We need these rites and rituals to get closure. Without in-person funerals and with social distancing there can be no physical comfort and support.
- Complicated grief: This is evident in that a person may be stuck in their grief journey. It could be that they are feeling guilt in having a hand in their loved one’s passing. For example, a person could blame themselves for infecting a loved one with the coronavirus.
- Cumulative grief: People are experiencing multiple losses in quick succession and each one will entail a unique, concurrent grieving journey.
A personal response to loss
Grief occurs because the relationship lost matters. It is individualised – no grief will be the same and the grief journey differs for each person. Grieving has no time limits. It does not occur in a straight line or on a time table. Grieving people can expect a grief-relapse throughout their lives. Here are some coping mechanisms that aid in the grieving process:
- Recognise your loss: Avoiding your feelings will have negative repercussions.
- Accept all the feelings you have around your loss as normal – both the bad and the good.
- Be gentle with yourself. Recognise when you need help and stay connected with your support network.
- Practice self-compassion. Do what works for you and heal at your own pace.
While it may seem counterintuitive, in attempting helping others, do not try and help the grieving person feel better. Rather let them be in their pain and acknowledge it. Be a witness and join them in their pain. Acknowledge their hurt and sadness. Just listen, because being heard helps.
Mrs Veronique Rothemberger
Client Relationship Manager @Workforce Healthcare
Veronique Rothemberger is an Employee wellness Client Relationship Manager. She has an extensive portfolio of private and public sector clients. She works alongside her clients to implement lasting Organisational change and support employees. She has a passion for educating and upskilling employees on how to deal with psychosocial issues like Mental Health and Building Healthy relationships.
- Psychosocial presentations for Workforce Healthcare clients