Pandemic Grief

Pandemic Grief

I attended the annual ADEC virtual & international conference on death and dying last week and walked away with so many incredible new ways to think about the dying & grief experience.

One of the interesting terms introduced to us was “Pandemic Grief” by Dr. Robert Neimeyer. He spoke about a study and screening tool he and his colleagues created to locate “dysfunctional grief” amongst people grieving a loved one that died from COVID.

Pandemic Grief takes into account the following compounded losses:

  • Low-grade COVID depression/anxiety already present prior to loss
  • Death loss itself
  • Stigma surrounding a COVID death
  • Inability to be with the loved one while they were sick and dying
  • Inability to have desired funeral ceremonies or gatherings

Dr. Neimeyer believes all of these factors and more have culminated into the unique grief experience of Pandemic Grief.

While I have not experienced the loss of a loved one to COVID, the term Pandemic Grief still hit home for me. I think all of us have experienced the losses of this last year in a way we haven’t experienced other griefs.

The non-death grief experience of the pandemic has looked a little like this for me:

  • Pervasive fear
  • Deep sadness for the victims and families
  • Uncertainty in what to believe or hope for
  • Roller-coaster ride of opening and closing
  • Relational tension as family and friends navigate all of the above in their own way
  • Last minute cancellations
  • Loss of special celebrations and unique moments
  • Loneliness / feelings of rejection
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Anger at the situation, at others, or in place of our sadness
  • Lack of exterior support because EVERYONE ELSE is also feeling this

This list is being made now without the desire to bring you down – but to validate the extremity of what we’ve all been through.

As we collectively feel hope with opening-up dates coming and vaccine rates rising, we can perhaps see this list more clearly and calmly.

If you feel like you won’t be able to walk back into your favorite places, restaurants, theme parks, stadiums or theaters without a sense of sadness – you’re probably right. It’s not morbid, silly, or something to shake off. This didn’t last for a few weeks or a couple months, we’ve endured ONE YEAR of very intense and difficult emotional, physical, relational and spiritual tension.

I think it can be so helpful to name what we are going through. When we can connect it and name it, we can see our experience for what it is.

So, the next time you feel this tension – or that strange mix of excitement over what’s happening and grief over what didn’t happen – acknowledge the presence of this Pandemic Grief in your life. It’s real and while it may come and go, it’s important that you don’t ignore or diminish it. When we give space for the emotion, good or bad, we give ourselves the gift of living in the present moment and “dealing” right then and there with the reality.

What you can do to share or talk about it:

  • Tell someone close to you when you are feeling sad, even if it seems like you shouldn’t be.
  • Write about the complexity of what you’re feeling – there’s SO MUCH going on. I think many of us are feeling so many things we can hardly untangle them.
  • Find a life coach, spiritual director, or support group to talk more openly about your unique losses
  • DO NOT discount what you’ve been through. If someone compares your pain and diminishes it – they aren’t safe. Find someone else to share wtih.

We have been through something extraordinary and we can’t help but be changed by this. While I’m not quite at peace with how much pandemic grief I’ve got in my life, it helps to call it something and know what it is, and talk about it with people that care about me.

How have you seen Pandemic Grief in your experience of COVID? Please, share below. We would love to hear from you.

Molly Keating
Molly Keating
Molly grew up in and around funeral homes her entire life. In 2009 she began working for O'Connor Mortuary and found a bridge between her passion for writing and her interest in grief and bereavement. In 2016 she earned Certification in the field of Thanatology, the study of Death, Dying and Bereavement. She is honored to be able to write about these taboo topics with knowledge, compassion, and a unique perspective.

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