Grief In Isolation
Nobody is immune to the impact of the current pandemic. Not only are we physically isolated from family, friends, and school or work colleagues, but many of us also feel emotionally isolated and lonely. Bereaved families often speak about grief isolation caused by the feeling that nobody else could understand their distress, by their inclination to protect others from the depth of their pain, or by the reluctance of other people to speak about what has happened in case they cause further upset.
Since March of this year, dying, death, and grief have all become much more complicated. Many families have been unable to be with their loved one throughout their illness, or as they were dying, due to imposed pandemic restrictions. They have been unable to visit each other or to share the essential comfort of physical contact through hugging, touching, or holding hands. So many people have been unable to attend a family funeral due to travel or attendee number restrictions or because they themselves were forced to self-isolate.
Alongside this are the thoughts of the bereaved. Families whose loved ones died due to Covid have reported feeling that the death was not unique, and therefore has a reduced impact on the world around them, whilst their suffering actually feels heightened. Where the death was not caused by the coronavirus, families are holding back from reaching out for support in the belief that their grief is somehow less important and that professionals are busy with pandemic-related bereavements.
Parents of bereaved children are witnessing a heightening of common grief reactions: the feelings of fear, anger, frustration, anxiety, and loneliness that often accompany grief are currently magnified by a lack of social support, cancelled clubs for hobbies or physical activities, and inconsistency in routine or school attendance.
All in all, we are feeling more isolated than ever before.
Maintaining emotional connection when we are physically isolated from our family and friends can be difficult, but there is good evidence that shows the benefit of sharing our thoughts and feelings. Bereaved children and adults are helped by the opportunity to talk about, and repeat, what has happened, what their personal experience was and how this feels for them. Sharing in this way can reduce feelings of isolation and loneliness.
We should remind ourselves that grief is personal and unique, so each family member may experience different reactions at different times. It may help you to feel less alone in your grief to remember that the loss is shared even though the grief responses of other family members may differ greatly from your own. Bereaved children benefit greatly from learning this.
If you feel unable to talk to your family and friends, or you have nobody with whom you feel close enough to share your thoughts and feelings, try to reach out to one of the many child or adult grief support agencies. Most have practitioners who are ready to listen, or helplines you can call. Children and young people may be reluctant to talk about their emotions as they try to protect their family which, again, can lead to feelings of isolation and loneliness for them. An experienced and impartial grief support practitioner will listen and provide information and support that will help them to process their experiences.
Can’t talk? Write it down
Sometimes it feels impossible to say ‘out loud’ how we feel, and this is ok! It is natural to struggle to put difficult emotions into words, especially in the early days following a death. Sometimes you may just feel that you are not ready to share these thoughts or that you do not know who the right person to speak to may be.
Journal, diary, or letter writing can help. You do not have to write in sentences or consider your spelling and punctuation. You may just want to write down random words, or even sketches or scribbles. Younger children may use drawing or colouring to the same effect. There is no need to share what you write or draw unless you feel it will help you – or those around you – to understand. Just having a creative outlet can help to release bottled up emotions.
Read all about it
There are many books about grief for adults and children. In our work at SeeSaw we use and recommend many storybooks for children. As well as the physical and emotional closeness a child feels when an adult is reading to or with them, the storylines, characters, and messages – whether clear or symbolic – help children in many ways by presenting:
- solutions for managing challenging emotions
- options of new ways to be or to act
- the thought that others have gone through the same experience
- the realisation that they are not alone in their grief
Young people and adults who use the internet can access grief and mental health support websites, many of which have blogs and forums where people share their experiences and talk about what has helped them. This connection can be vital for those who live alone or who are struggling with reduced social contact.
No school or work? Structure your day
Grief can make our lives feel chaotic and out of control. We may feel excessively tired or suffer from a ‘brain fog’ that makes it difficult to concentrate or to motivate ourselves. In addition to this, being, or feeling, isolated can make us believe that there is no point to our day. Currently children and young people who are used to attending school, clubs, and activities are frustrated by inconsistencies and regular interruptions to their routines as they are sent home to isolate for 14 days at a time.
It can help to add structure to your days. Write a timetable, which can be displayed on the fridge or the wall for younger children, and schedule time for homework, play, hobbies, chores, and exercise, as well as self-care, rest, and free time. Allow for time together as well as some time alone.
Exercise is extremely important as we hold emotion in our bodies as well as our minds. There are great physical and hormonal benefits to exercise that provide us with an outlet for our feelings and naturally lift our mood.
Ultimately, be kind to yourself and manage expectations for yourself and your children. Grief is messy. There is no path to follow through grief stages or time to finish grieving when we reach the end. Expect to have good days and bad days. And try not to compare how you are managing your reactions to the way other people appear to be coping, as grief is a unique experience. Practice more self-care if you can when the difficult days arrive and encourage your child or young person to do the same. Perhaps plan more practical tasks and fun activities for the better days.
Make time to talk about the person who has died. Include their name and your memories of them in everyday conversations to help you and your children to redefine your sense of being, your relationship with the person who died, and your lives without them. Work together to preserve memories. You could, for example, save special items in a memory box, put together a photograph album or collage, or create a playlist of their favourite music.
Feelings of isolation and loneliness are common grief reactions but teaching children and young people that you do not have to leave behind or forget your loved one can help them to manage these difficult emotions.