Across the globe, people are grieving. Grief is a natural, normal and necessary journey when a loved one passes away. Grieving is hard work under normal circumstances, and this worldwide pandemic has made a normal bereavement very challenging. The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted the way we are able to grieve, mourn and receive support.
So what is grief? Grief is our normal response to loss. Bereavement is the state of being bereaved after someone important to us dies. When someone dies we naturally grieve. For many of us grief impacts all aspects of our lives; physically, socially, emotionally, cognitively, and spiritually. We may feel grief in our bodies through muscle aches and pains, nausea, fatigue and weakness. It may also impact our relationships and even cause us to lose interest in our usual social activities and hobbies. When we’re grieving, we may have feelings that we didn’t expect or that feel too intense, and this may add to our confusion and isolation. Sometimes we may experience ‘grief brain’ and have difficulty paying attention or concentrating, and even have trouble remembering things that used to come easily to us. Grief may also affect our sense of meaning and purpose in life; and even cause us to question our belief systems and values. No one grieves in exactly the same way as anyone else. Our grief is a unique reflection of the relationship we had with the person who died and will be influenced by our past experiences, current circumstances, and the availability of support.
Is there more than one type of grief? The answer is yes. However, it likely isn’t helpful for you or anyone other than a professional trained to assess grief and diagnose mental health disorders, to label or categorize your grief experience. Although life changing and, at times overwhelming, most people successfully make their way through grief. In fact, current research indicates that only 2-3% of people worldwide will experience a disabling form of grief known as complicated or prolonged grief.
The grief process naturally works to help us adjust to life without the person who died. The intensity of the thoughts and feelings that we experience in early grief motivates us to want to feel better and the longing that we feel for the person who died motivates us to find ways to feel connected. When grief is working well, we find that our focus naturally shifts between adjusting to the loss and what it means to us to live without the person who died, and restoring or rebuilding for ourselves a life of meaning and purpose.
It is important that you and those who care about you know that grief is permanent; some part of you will always love and miss the person who died. In this way, we never “get over” the death of someone who was central to our lives, and many bereaved people realize they will never “let go” of the person who died. Instead, we learn to live with the loss and grief in ways that maintain and honour our bond with the person who died but don’t limit our capacity for joy, pleasure and a meaningful life.
November 17th observes National Bereavement Day 2020 in Canada. I invite you to engage with this campaign; grief is a shared journey that fosters compassion and encourages us to cope with our grief by supporting each other through living and grieving. We might be physically distant, but grief brings us together.
We learn to live with the loss and grief in ways that maintain and honour our bond with the person who died but don’t limit our capacity for joy, pleasure and a meaningful life. At this trying time, we might be physically distant, but we are emotionally, spiritually and socially connected through our grief.
Learn more about Bereavement day 2020 at https://www.chpca.ca/campaigns/bereavementday/
By: Aia Raafat, Communications Officer, Canadian Hospice Palliative Care Association (CHPCA)