Grief and Coronavirus: The Pain of Delayed Farewells

27 May, 2020
In this article, we want to talk about how to face loss at this time, taking into account that we don't have many of the usual resources due to the coronavirus restrictions. Read on and discover more about the process of grief and coronavirus.

There are times when we reach our limits and can’t cope anymore. We feel overwhelmed, full of anger, helpless, frustrated, and full of pain. Often, our own personal crises lead to this sort of situation. Fortunately, they’re situations that, as human beings, we can overcome. Today, we’re going to talk to you about the relationship between grief and the coronavirus.

Accepting the changes that this worldwide crisis has brought about isn’t an easy challenge and most of us are experiencing grief in one form or another.

To help you out, we’re going to take a good look at different psychological theories about grief, along with the current research related to the coronavirus. Many of these are so recent that they’ve been directly implemented in order to deal with the situation.

For starters, let’s have a look at the definition of grief. In his 2013 book Pérdida, Pena, Duelo: Vivencias, Investigación y Asistencia (In English: Loss, Grief, Mourning: Experiences, Research, and Support), Jorge L. Tizón, suggests that grief is “a set of phenomena that are set in motion after the loss”. He continues by saying that these phenomena “aren’t only psychological, but also psychosocial, social, physical, anthropological, and even economic”.

However, with the coronavirus pandemic, there have been a number of changes in several countries around the world. These changes have led to losses – and grief as a direct consequence – on different levels.

“When we’re no longer able to change a situation – we’re challenged to change ourselves.”

-Viktor E. Frankl-

Manifestations: types of grief and coronavirus

When we talk about grief, we always refer to those who are commonly called mourners. It’s common for mourners to experience the following sensations:

  • Physiological. For example, stomach tension, chest and throat tightness, hypersensitivity to noise, a feeling of de-personalization, shortness of breath, headaches, a dry mouth, and palpitations.
  • Behavioral. Sleep disorders, social isolation, crying, lamenting, groaning, and distraction.
  • Emotional. Rage, guilt, anxiety, attachment, and absence of feelings.
  • Cognitive. Problems with memory, attention and concentration, repetitive thoughts, and illusory thoughts, among others.

These are some of the manifestations that usually occur but each person will have their own unique case. OK, so what types of grief have occurred due to the coronavirus crisis?

Types of grief

Depending on the type of loss, there are many different types of grief. Here are the most common ones:

  • Anticipatory. This is a process of prolonged mourning, which occurs before a loss has occurred. It usually occurs when there’s a diagnosis of a disease that has no cure.
  • Chronic. Also called pathological or complicated. This is unresolved grief that occurs when the bereaved person can’t stop reliving the processes and experiences relating to the experience of loss.
  • Distorted. When there’s a disproportionate reaction to the situation.
  • Absent. This is when the person denies that the loss has occurred. It’s also seen as one of the stages of grief.
  • Unauthorized. When those around the bereaved don’t accept the grief and encourage the containment of any manifestation that the person may want to express.
  • Inhibited. When a person doesn’t express their feelings and avoids the pain of loss.

In addition to this, there are also other types of grief, depending on the type of loss. For example, relational grief, which is related to people’s losses in terms of death, separations, or material grief, which is related to objects and possessions.

Furthermore, according to other classifications, we can say that grief occurs according to family and social factors, such as loss of autonomy or functionality, social isolation, lack of economic resources, and absence of adequate support.

Grief and coronavirus

Regarding coronavirus and grief, for example, Cara L Wallace and her colleagues published an article in the Journal of Pain and Symptom Management in which they suggest that social distancing policies, restrictions on visitors to health centers, and the impact of the spread of the virus complicate the grief process.

We need to bear in mind all the changes to the dynamics accompanying grief that we were all used to. An example would be funeral rites. In many cases, they can’t be conducted with groups of people nor immediately after the loss.

How to cope with the situation

When we’re grieving, we go through different stages, and coronavirus-related grief is no exception.

According to grief expert Elisabeth Kübler Ross, these stages are:

  • Denial, in which we postpone the pain.
  • Anger, in which resentment arises in the face of frustration.
  • Negotiation, in which forms and attempts at control are given.
  • Depression, characterized by a deep sense of emptiness.
  • And, finally, acceptance, in which resignation and understanding occur.

To reach this last stage you need to:

  • Express your emotions. In order to release tensions and connect with your emotional world.
  • To let go. It’s important to let go of the situation, even though it’s painful. You need to do this in order to move on. Of course, this doesn’t mean forgetting your loved ones or the times you spent together.
  • Ask for help. In the face of the current crisis, many channels of help have come to the fore by phone or through video calls. Also, remember that there are experts in grief counseling, for example, psychologists, and many of them are also professionals in teletherapy.
  • Use the resources that you do have. Ask yourself the question: “What can I do with what I have?” Don’t leave any areas untouched.
  • Self-care. Don’t forget your social health. Remember that physical distance doesn’t mean social isolation. Neither should you forget your physical health. Pay attention to your diet, physical exercise, and sleep. Embrace your psyche and take time to do something you like, spend time in reflection, and try to release tension.

Relaxation techniques

Some studies, such as that of Cyrus SH Ho, Cornelia Yi Chee, and Roger CM Ho, advocates psychoeducation and online psychological intervention. Alternatively, you can practice mindfulness, focus on relaxation techniques, manage stress, and perform meditation practices that allow you to relax.

In short, grief and coronavirus is a very particular process because of the circumstances in which it occurs. In this current situation, dealing with grief is more likely to be complicated because some of our most powerful resources have been hijacked by the situation itself.

We’re talking here about the importance of skin-to-skin or face-to-face contact. That’s why it’s so important for you to use the resources you do have at your disposal, especially those that we’ve gained through years and years of advances in technology.

Ho, C.S., Chee, C.Y., & Ho, R.C. (2020). Mental health strategies to combat the psychological impact of COVID-19 beyond paranoia and panic. Ann Med Singapore, 49 (1), 1-3.

Tizón, J.L. (2004). Pérdida, pena, duelo. Vivencias, investigación, y asistencia (Vol 12). Madrid: Planeta.

Wallace, C.L., Wladkowski, S.P., Gibson, A., & White, P. (2020). Grief During the COVID-19 Pandemic: Considerations for Paliative Care Providers. Journal of Pain and Symptom Management.