By Dr. Kate Truitt
In June 2009 after being together with a man for 10 years, I returned home late at night from my bachelorette party to unexpectedly and devastatingly find that my fiancé had collapsed, and I could not make him breathe. One week later, our wedding guests became funeral guests, and our wedding flowers became funeral flowers. I was widowed before I was even pronounced a wife.
For a long time, I believed mine was a unicorn story of grief and loss, but now when I talk with my patients, colleagues and friends, I realize that this is a story that is now lived by many. Because of the Coronavirus Pandemic, hundreds of thousands of people in this country and millions around the world are losing their loved ones, spiraling whole families at a time into devastating grief.
Navigating the pandemic means that many of us will likely deal with grief and loss. Nobody ever becomes an expert on grief, but after clawing my way back and working hard to build a resilient brain so that I could not only survive, but thrive, I do have some advice to pass on.
Dealing with Grief and Loss is More Challenging Now
In these times, things are a little different. In my story I was able to host the beautiful funeral service of my fiancé. I didn’t realize at the time what a precious gift that was. The church was filled to overflowing with standing room only, and people spilling out into the parking lot, waiting to pay their respects to the wonderful man we lost. Today, many people are not given that gift. Their experience of grief and loss comes amid a deeply rooted sense of isolation.
Grief is a deep experience of mourning and honoring. It is a normal part of our human experience, and yet this new reality makes it much more difficult, because we are not able to hold and closely console one another like we normally would.
One truth we have learned during the Coronavirus Pandemic about grief is that it’s not always about the loss of another person. Many situations resulting from this crisis can cause grief: the loss of a home because you can’t afford the mortgage or rent payment, the loss of a career you have worked in for years, the loss of the lifestyle you enjoyed, the loss grandparents feel when they are not able to hug their grandchildren, no graduation celebrations, no birthday parties, no wedding receptions.
I recently talked with Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist Sarah Schupack, a member of our Trauma Counseling Center of Los Angeles team. Sarah is a trauma expert who has been doing very moving work helping people navigate their experiences of grief and loss during these extraordinary times. I asked her about what she is seeing.
“One of the things I’m curious about on a practical level is how we are experiencing grief and loss around our daily lives—needing to wear face masks and do social distancing,” Sarah said. “Whether we’re staying home or staying six feet apart, this is a major loss in our ability to move and breathe freely. I think we are feeling that major change and experiencing that loss on some level, and we have feelings about that deep within us.”
Sarah said that people need to acknowledge and have compassion for those feelings inside of themselves—including feelings of wanting to rebel against these limitations that have been placed upon us—so that their inner voices can be heard and seen.
We also talked about the importance of acknowledging both the little “t” traumas that accumulate in these times along with the big “T” traumas.
“Sometimes we can try to justify to ourselves that something is more important because it’s a big “T” but the little “t” shouldn’t matter, but it does,” Sarah said. “Little things like having to wait in line to go to our favorite store or not being able to go to our favorite store because the line is too long, or having to cover our mouths with something that is uncomfortable and makes it hard to breathe. These are the small, micro changes in our lives, but they are real, and they’re hard.”
Whether you are dealing with a devastating trauma or an accumulation of “little” daily traumas, this is a time of significant loss. But instead of ignoring it, we need to lean into it, acknowledge it and have compassion for what we are feeling. Our brain and our body don’t like it when we’re not paying attention to what is real. The more we ignore reality, the louder it becomes. Lean into your loss, acknowledge it, find space within yourself to be in relationship with the loss, honoring that your feelings are real. Find others to connect with in that relationship with your loss.
Self-Compassion is Self-Care
As Sarah mentioned above, “people need to acknowledge and have compassion for those feelings inside of themselves.” This self-compassion is one of the essential pieces of self-care, which in turn is essential to managing stress and anxiety, and living with grief. Self-care also helps us counteract our fear-based brain, which only wants to keep us alive, and would rather spend precious energy anticipating threats to us by ruminating on fears and concerns about what is going on in the world around us.
One example of self-care that I bring in during video chats nowadays is what I call the hug hack, which satisfies some of that “skin hunger” we are all experiencing, especially those dealing with grief and loss in relative isolation. The hug hack delivers that missing electrochemical experience of connection and holding gentle space for yourself and those around you, but most importantly for yourself. See the Hug Hack and the Guided Meditation for Grief and Loss videos below to help your brain and body shift through and be connected to the reality of what is happening with your loss, grief and mourning and see much more on my YouTube channel,
Our connections with others is an important part of self-care, as loneliness is on the rise now with depression following closely behind. Intentionally schedule friend dates and regular check-ins. And I mean schedule. Find a day and time that works and put it on the calendar. Scheduling and prioritizing are crucial.
One thing I have learned through my own journey is that the experience of grief and loss softens us somewhat. It teaches us the importance of saving space, and being conscientious and kind toward our feelings and ourselves as we navigate deeply painful times.
Remember, this too shall pass.
If you have lost someone during this time, as I have, find peace in the fact that they live on within us and around us. We carry their spirits as we tell the stories of who they were and how they touched our lives. So, share those stories of those who have moved on, with yourself, and those you love, and those who loved them. Storytelling keeps those who are near and dear to us alive.
SEE RELATED RESOURCES FOR GRIEF AND LOSS BELOW
The Hug Hack: Simulating Neurological Connection During Social Distancing
Being apart from our loved ones in time of stress and fear directly conflicts with the way humanity is biologically designed. This quick Brain Hack tricks the brain into experiencing a physiological sense of connection through remote connection. Now you can enjoy your Zoom dinner dates, House Party connections, Virtual Happy Hours, and Whatsap/Facetime calls with the people you love and share the experience of a physically distanced hug! Double bonus? A delightful dose of Serotonin and GABA. Physically Distanced doesn’t mean Socially Disconnected. Let’s hug each other virtually!
Leaning into Grief and Loss to Create Healing
This is a time of deep grief and loss. From the felt sense of lost freedoms to the very real loss of those we know and love passing on from this world. Grief is an experience of both mourning and honoring. It’s important to take space to be conscientious and kind to ourselves about our feelings and truths as we navigate the darkness of pain and loss. The experience of loss of 2020 in specifically unique as we are isolated from our communities and our loved ones. Learn some key takeaways in this video.
Grief and Loss During the Coronavirus Pandemic
Experiences of grief and loss are plentiful during the Coronavirus Pandemic —loss of friends, families, and colleagues, loss of graduations, new jobs, uncertainty about what school will look like next year, loss of being able to enjoy a night out with friends, or even breathe safely and freely when navigating our day to day lives. All of these losses carry meaning and it’s so important to honor loss, to hold space for it and the hard feelings that arise alongside it. In this video Dr. Kate Truitt is joined by Stress and Trauma Specialist Sarah Schupack, LMFT to unpack what grief and loss look like in 2020, and to provide actionable steps for self-care and healing.
A Guided Meditation for Grief and Loss
Dr. Kate Truitt is no stranger to the nature of grief and loss. After being widowed a week before her wedding in 2009 she embarked on a five year journey back to finding herself. What was once a unique story of devastating traumatic loss is now the story of so many in 2020. Unexpected and agonizing loss is tearing lives asunder. In this guided meditation she shares opportunities for self-connection, healing, and resiliency that only come through being in deep relationship with the painful wisdom gifted to us with loss.