SELF-CARE FOR THE BEREAVED, DURING A PANDEMIC
this talk was given on Facebook Live
it can be watched on our Facebook Page
PUBLIC INFORMATION EVENING
James Reid Funeral Home
April 6, 2020
Nancy A. Hancock
Every year we include the topic of self-care in our Public Information Evenings. That’s because during times of increased stress and unhappiness, it is very easy to neglect caring for ourselves. Our usual routines fall by the wayside and we may prefer to stay at home and isolate for long periods of time. This may lead to an increased risk of clinical depression.
This year, we are all in the same boat. Though we are not all grieving a loved one’s death, we are all “sheltering in place”, which is a nicer way of saying “self-isolating”. It is, nonetheless, very isolating. We are, after all, a species which thrives on social connectedness. When we go for days, weeks, and months without human touch or face to face contact, we find ourselves feeling low, lonely, and perhaps depressed.
You have joined us tonight because you are in the midst of grieving the loss of someone very special to you. Instead of being surrounded by family and friends to give you hugs and comfort, you find yourself alone. I cannot imagine what this must be like for you.
How are you?
How do you feel?
Many of the things we would suggest in terms of self care are not allowed now. You may not be able to hold a public funeral or celebration of life for the foreseeable future. You cannot attend in-person worship services, a grief support group, our Public Information Evenings, or see your counsellor. These are what we would normally suggest as being very helpful. We don’t advise that you withdraw and isolate yourself in your home. And yet, that is exactly what we all must do now, perhaps for months.
What have you found most difficult about grieving during the pandemic?
What have you found most helpful to you?
I recently read a relevant article in the Harvard Business Review, of all places. The HBR staff met virtually recently through technology. The question was asked, “How is everyone feeling?”. One person said that she was feeling grief. Everyone else’s head nodded.
Perhaps one of the lessons we will learn throughout this universal call to shelter in place is that, we are all realizing the universality of the human condition: that we crave human connection and suffer when we do not have it. We are all experiencing some kind of grief, and those who grieve the death of their person are experiencing an extreme form of grief. We are getting a taste of what you know all too well: the loneliness of grief. Right now, what are we all grieving?
our world has changed
we wonder if we will ever feel normal again
fear of financial losses: home; income; savings
the loss of human connection
our sense of safety and security
Are there other losses you are grieving?
Once we all acknowledge the grief we are feeling, whether it is due to the death of someone we loved or the grief we feel due to the pandemic, once it is named, we can think of how to manage that grief and take good care of ourselves while grieving.
In the HBR article written by Scott Berinato, the staff met online with David Kessler who is the world’s foremost expert on grief. His new book, Finding Meaning: The Sixth Stage of Grief, refers back to his and Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’s book, On Grief and Grieving. This former book addressed Kubler-Ross’s five stages of loss and relates them to the grief process. Kessler acknowleged that the five stages of loss, and by extension, grief, are not linear. They do not happen in a particular order, and some of the stages may not be experienced at all. The fifth stage of loss was acceptance. The goal is that the person would come to accept the loss. Kessler’s new book, adding to Kubler-Ross’s work, talks about the sixth stage being the one in which we find meaning in our grief.
Finding the meaning in the great loss you have experienced, is very difficult, but in time, many have been able to find strengths they never knew they had, empathy for others, a newfound faith, or a continuing bond with their loved one who has died.
Coming to a place of acceptance and meaning-making after the death of your person takes time. There is no timetable. It cannot be hurried. Meanwhile, there are some things that you can do, even when everyone is sheltering in place, to care for your body, mind, and spirit. In a time when you feel such loss of control and helplessness, taking action in terms of self-care will give you a feeling of control over your life once again.
CARING FOR YOUR PHYSICAL HEALTH
What are you doing to care for your physical health?
- Try to eat healthy, balanced meals, in a routine that is normal for you
- If you feel unwell, call your Doctor. While you may not be seen in person now, doctors are conducting virtual visits or via telephone. Grief is physical as well as emotional.
- Realize that due to the stress of grieving, your immune system may be compromised. During this time of forced isolation, do not expose yourself to other people except for short periods out of necessity.
- Keep moving for short periods every day: inside or going for a brisk walk, being careful to stay away from other walkers, dance like no one is watching: they aren’t!
- James Reid Funeral Home Walking through Grief group (if possible): May 19 , 6:30-8 pm. at Lemoines Pt.
- Garden: clear out dead stuff and plan your garden; then plant and tend
- Get adequate rest: practice good sleep hygiene and routines.
- Drinking in moderation
- Drink plenty of water
CARING FOR YOUR MENTAL HEALTH
How are you caring for your mental health?
- Continue meeting with your therapist on the phone or online
- Self-soothing: take a bubble bath or hot tub
- Pets are great for your mental health
- Listen to music that soothes or energizes you
- Take regular breaks from grief: set a timer and allow yourself a good cry or pound a pillow. When the timer goes off, you then take a break from your grief and do something which distracts you or gives you joy
- Pay attention to your thoughts. Practice a mindful balance: when you imagine the worst, bring yourself back to the present and what you do have control over. Think instead of the best thing that could happen or focus on the happier times with your loved one and what they would want for you now.
- If anxiety strikes, practice deep abdominal breathing. Focus on your breath as you inhale and exhale slowly and deeply.
- buy yourself fresh flowers at the grocery store or have them delivered from a local florist
CARING FOR YOUR SOCIAL NEEDS
What new ways are you finding to connect with others?
- Until you can go out and be with people, rediscover the telephone. Reach out and call someone.
- Discover new ways of connecting via the computer: FaceTime; Zoom; Facebook and Messenger are all new ways of connecting one on one or in groups. Perhaps set up a weekly check in time with a small group of others who are grieving.
- While isolating oneself is normal in times of grief, do not let it become a habit.
- Write a letter or card to friends and loved ones, tell them what they mean to you.
CARING FOR YOUR SPIRITUAL NEEDS
- Now may be a good time to return to your childhood faith, ie. recite old bedtime prayers, the Lord’s Prayer, or the 23rd Psalm. Light the Shabbat candles on Fridays at sunset.
- Watch Mass or other religious programming on TV
- Many faith communities are live-streaming worship services which you can tune into live or watch recorded later. I call it The Church on the Couch.
- Listen to inspirational music
- Read a daily devotional book or message sent from an App such as YouBible.
- Realize that everyone feels the same loss of control that you do. The Serenity Prayer is one that we all need these days:
“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
and the wisdom to know the difference”
RE-ESTABLISH DAILY ROUTINES
In an article from the Center for Motivation and Change, Rachel Proujansky has a caution for us all in the age of COVID 19. I believe that it is doubly important for those who are grieving during their sheltering in place.
Right now you might be sitting with a temptation to do whatever is most comforting—stay in your pajamas all day, eat comfort foods, leave showering for later (or not at all), return to or increase substance use, avoid work, put off exercising…pay attention to those kinds of reactions. When changes big or small happen in our lives [ie. death], we are more likely to stop engaging in the routine behaviours that connect us to our goals.” The writer says that it happens very slowly, this drifting slowly away from the things that anchor us. “While the temptation to drift might be strong, now is a critical time to stick with those healthy routines.
Finally, whatever you are feeling right now is completely normal, given that nothing around you is normal. You have lost someone important to you, and the usual supports which normally surround you are not there in the ways we are used to. Be patient with yourself, and slowly try to return to your normal routines. Be sure to connect with your loved ones in new ways, especially if you live alone and everyone is isolating themselves at home.
As we hear so often today, we are all in the same boat together, and we will get through this pandemic together. Keep reaching out to one another. Living with grief is a process, not a task to complete, a marathon not a sprint. Take this process and make it your own. You are worth it.
Self Care and Coping Strategies in Grief, presentation by Sarah Reid Hedberg, 2019.
Finding Meaning: The Sixth Stage of Grief. book by David Kessler.
That Discomfort You’re Feeling is Grief, article in the Harvard Business Review, March 2020, by Scott Berinato.
Taking Care of Yourself During COVID, article by Rachel Proujansky, PsyD. motivationandchange.com. Center for Motivation and Change. March 2020.