The coronavirus pandemic sweeping the globe has not only left many anxious about life and death issues, it has also left people struggling with the unexpected death of loved ones, with the powerlessness losses may lead to in this unprecedented crisis, with the impracticability of having a much-needed closure. And those deaths are now front-page news, permanent reminders of your suffering.
Grief is a natural response to loss. Coping with the loss of a loved one is a really tough challenge and may seem overwhelming and impossible. It is even tougher on us when we live abroad and the deceased used to live at a distance. How to bear the unbearable? How to accept the unacceptable?
Be kind to yourself
Living abroad is an incredibly rich and intense experience that we love sharing with our loved ones when we visit them. It is all part of staying connected, trying our best to make them part of our lives. In turn, we try hard not to miss out on their key moments.
However, living at a distance, we do miss out on special happenings, the lovely and the sad ones. We all know how important it is to be with our loved ones in tough times, to say goodbye when the time has come. You surely have thought: ‘I wish I had been there’ or ‘I wish I was there’, but you can’t and this feeling is excruciating.
The pain is unbearable and you also have to cope with this feeling of guilt; please be kind to yourself. You could not be there and if you cannot join your family or friends right now, it is clearly not your fault. Most countries are under lockdown or have banned massive gatherings. These stringent regulations may add an extra layer of despair since you may be feeling powerless, angry at this unthinkable context.
Feelings of loneliness and the isolation you may go through can be even more agonising. Try to find a few friends to whom you can talk online safely. Do not hesitate to share your feelings, you need to express them.
Stay connected to your loved ones abroad. You may not express your pain in the same way as they do but you all do share the same loss and you are all wounded. This connection is powerful and can help you heal gradually even at a distance. And remember: be kind to yourself, it is an awfully tough time and you need to be as kind to yourself as you would be/have been to your lost loved one.
Find your own mourning ritual
Each one of us handles death differently. I lost many loved ones at a distance and each time, I tried to connect with them, or our shared memories, by doing something we had both enjoyed doing together. When the world was not ‘stranded’ by Covid-19, I would go to a Lebanese restaurant to celebrate my father‘s birthday or stroll in London parks to speak to my deceased aunt (my aunt was a great admirer of London parks).
Coronavirus has upended our world, we now have no other choice but to find new ways to grieve. Sharing your feelings online with people you feel understand you and empathise with you is crucial. When online, you could share pictures of the loved one, or play a game that reminds you of the good times, even schedule a ritual online that pays tribute to the deceased. Find your own way, like passing on their memory or making them part of your life in a different way, gradually.
In some cases, the usual rituals cannot be respected like gathering together in the home of the bereaved family and sit shiva for Jewish families. All families have to return home and self-isolate. The idea that preserving a human life overrides any religious rules do apply in this context.
Everything feels surreal and losing a loved one in these particular circumstances is totally unfair and may seem unmanageable. To feel this way is totally OK. We are experiencing an unprecedented crisis with no data to rely on or knowledge that could help us get a better grasp.
Try to get ‘me times’ as often as you need them – which means unplugging from social media and news – but please do not fall into the trap of isolating yourself completely which could lead to severe depression. Stay connected to your friends and other family members online, and find people you can talk to, online for now.
Online bereavement support
If you need a different type of support, join an online bereavement support group. You can also look for groups or mental health organisations that have professional therapists, counsellors. You may also think of animal-assisted therapy or any form of therapy/counselling that meets your current needs.
Make sure you do not isolate yourself fully, stay connected to your friends and family, and find your own way to experience your feelings, which may mean asking for the help of a professional. And that is extremely courageous!
I also offer for those in need free online sessions on Mondays during the lockdown only. Again, please reach out, now more than ever we all need to feel emotionally supported.
If you are interested in learning more about loss and grief, ends and beginnings, dealing with uncertainty, please contact me or visit Polychromatic Life Design.
Margareth Van Steenlandt is a certified counsellor, personal development and business coach.