Like most aspects of life, 2020 has made dealing with death even more difficult than normal, especially because the process of grief strangely mirrors the experience of being in a pandemic. There are no rights and wrongs to grieving, but I want to share how I have coped with being a student grieving in the pandemic, for those who are struggling too.
Unfortunately, there isn’t an easy ‘how-to’ for grief, or for being in the “unprecedented” time of Covid, because when you lose someone you love, this commences an equally unprecedented time – when they are not in your life in the same way as when they were alive. Death is so profoundly shit, in the same way being in a global pandemic is inescapably shit, and if you are managing both simultaneously, I am so sorry, and I want you to know you can learn to cope with both.
Although everyone’s bereavement is different, as are everyone’s circumstances in the pandemic, I have found the loss of someone significant can universally cause further feelings of loss of control, reality and sense of self, which the pandemic can heighten. Whilst you can’t change the fact your person has died, there are strategies to deal with these other losses, which should help you cope with grief. Above all, try to focus on reaffirming your connection with yourself, and with others.
Connecting to yourself
For the past year now, I have been in and out of therapy. I had never been before I came into contact with grief, but I’m so glad I took the step to go. Having a dedicated time to focus on my mental health has helped me come to terms with and understand my grief. It might seem harder to get help during the pandemic, however, there are still many ways you can access counselling, including for free; through the university, with the NHS, organisations in your area, privately or through charities – Cruse is a bereavement specific charity. All these organisations will offer different ways of accessing therapy and various forms of therapy, so you can find your best fit.
As we enter another lockdown, I would urge anyone grieving to make the most of your hour of daily exercise. I know when you are deeply unhappy sometimes all you can do is lie in bed – this is where I was a lot of the time, and then in the first lockdown I began to run. I was shocked by how good I felt when I returned, sweating, out of breath, red faced. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself; any exercise, inside or outside, will bring you a small space away from thinking about your grief, some structure, goals and, importantly, endorphins.
Living through a pandemic and the death of someone close to you warps your world entirely. I lost my grasp of time and my memory – they disappeared under my deafening, unruly thoughts. I found a way to centre myself was to get my thoughts out of my head and onto my phone screen or into a notebook. Again, sometimes you don’t have the energy, but if you are feeling overwhelmed, writing down what you are thinking can provide catharsis and reprise because
your thoughts have been put somewhere else for a while where you don’t have to look at them. Another simple practice I discovered was writing my days into a calendar – separate from a diary or to-do list. Only a couple of words – ‘bad day’, ‘had that meeting’ – when everyday feels the same or you can’t place yourself in time, can ground you.
Connecting with others
Isolation is the defining word of 2020 and grief can automatically make us feel alone. Thus, we must nurture our connections with others – reaching out to people when you need to talk through what you are going through or about the person you have lost, distract yourself with gossip, or simply sit in silence. Sometimes you need to be sad by yourself, but you also will need to be with those people who are important to you, and if you can’t be in the same room right now, that is what messaging, calling, Zoom-ing, Netflix Party-ing are for. Speaking with others who are also grieving can be especially useful, and if you don’t know any there are bereavement groups you can join, including ones specifically for young people – check out Let’s Talk About Loss, The Grief Network and Griefcase.
Although meaningful conversations about bereavement are few and far between in this country, even during a pandemic when death is suddenly far more present in the nation’s psyche, there is a grief community you can join – social media or podcasts are some of the easiest ways to find this – I recommend Modern Loss and Griefcast. I have struggled to create during this time, but consuming other’s creations around the topic of grief – films, TV, literature, has allowed me to relate to others. Of course, be aware of your boundaries, and take care not to trigger yourself.
The final connection you need to nourish is with your person who has died. You can still have a relationship with someone after they are gone, and this relationship is a crucial source of strength when grieving. Experiment with different practices and rituals until you find ways of being close to them which work for you. You can talk to them, write to them, listen to music they loved, look at pictures of them, there are so many ways to keep your person present.
Grieving is not linear; you are never going to “get over it”, but I promise you can feel better and still be grieving, because I am. It took time to get to this place, yet getting through incredibly painful moments is part of the process, and how you become more accepting of your grief. Remember, all you need to do during a crisis is look after yourself and do what you need to get through this and emerge stronger, which you will can do and you will be.