Know your feelings are valid. Grief is messy and a natural response to loss. There are no right or wrong ways to experience it. There are, of course, commonalities, but our response to loss is different for every person and also for each person we lose. In general, grief begins acutely with intense emotions, preoccupying thoughts, physical reactions and behaviors focused on honoring, caring for and feeling close to the bereaved. Over time, as we adapt to the loss by accepting its reality and restoring our well-being, grief is integrated and finds a place in our life.
Understand that sudden loss is shocking and difficult to comprehend. After a painful loss, it’s easy to imagine ways it didn’t have to happen. This is something almost everyone does. When a loved one dies suddenly, under difficult circumstances, as is happening with COVID-19 deaths, the tendency to get caught up in imagining all kinds of alternative scenarios is even stronger. This is called a “derailer” because it can sidetrack the adaptive healing process.
Use the tenets of the serenity prayer. You need to accept what you cannot change; this means accepting the death, but also the presence of the pandemic and its consequences. You also need courage, creativity, and fortitude to change what you can. This means finding ways to restore your well-being and to cope with the pandemic, which includes three basic components: 1) acting in ways that are consistent with important personal values or deeply held interests, 2) feeling competent to face and meet important challenges in life, and 3) having a sense of belonging and mattering in the world.
Watch out for thoughts that can derail your healing process. If they take too much space in your mind, certain kinds of natural thoughts, feelings, or behaviors can derail healing during acute grieving. These include protesting the death; self-blame, guilt, anger, or shame; imagining ways things could have gone differently; losing faith in yourself or others; excessive avoidance of reminders of the loss; and extreme social isolation.
Don’t let guilt overwhelm you. You will likely find yourself feeling survivor guilt. This is very natural, but it is something to notice and pay attention to while trying to not let it take over and guide your choices as you move forward. In other words, you need to allow yourself to have joy and satisfaction in your life again. That might take a while. Just try not to hold yourself back from having positive emotions and savoring them.