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  • Regina Tippets, LCMHC

Coronovirus and Loss

This is week two of doing counseling over tele-health instead of in person. Week one was hectic with planning, coordinating, and setting up confidential tele-conferencing. Many of my clients talked about how crazy and surreal it is to transition to working from home. We reviewed how to stay in touch with friends, how to keep a routine, and manage self-care - like meditation, daily walks, etc.

Week two has seen a shift. People are feeling the impact of isolation and the loss of connection. And there are other losses: the loss of normalcy, the loss of the future we had planned, the potential loss of lives, the loss of jobs, and the loss of security. Some people say “it won’t happen to me” or “it’s not fair that I don’t get to have a graduation or my senior prom.” Others think, “as long as I self-quarantine everything will be okay.” And still some think “everyone is over-reacting. It’s just the flu.” In short, people feel sadness, anger, bargaining, and denial.

You might recognize these emotions as the stages of grief. Death is not the only time we grieve. We grieve all loss. It is helpful to be aware that these emotions are grief so that we can move through them. Keep in mind that we do not go through these emotions in an orderly sequential fashion. We move in and out of them in various order, with acceptance as the last stage. Understanding what we are feeling - and why we are feeling it - is an important part of the grief process and can be empowering.

There is also anticipatory grief, the grief we feel when we know something bad is coming. For instance, when a loved one receives a terminal diagnosis. We begin grieving, but it is also accompanied by anxiety. The loss of safety and security can also cause us to feel this anxiety. We worry about what the future holds. Will we be okay? Anticipatory grief causes our minds to race and go to the worst case scenario – which is where the anxiety comes in.

We move through grieve by talking about it with others, by crying, and by journaling. My clients often tell me that they don’t want to feel the sadness because it will take over. So I will ask them to allow themselves to feel it for one minute or allow themselves to cry for one minute. When we experience our emotions, they move. Sharing our emotions with others also helps those emotions move on.

The goal is to move through our grief and get to acceptance. Acceptance is where we feel a sense of control and move out of anxiety. It’s where we start thinking, “Okay, I will wash my hands, keep social distance, and work from home. This is happening and I can do what I can.” We take control of what we can control. We stop our minds from dwelling on worst case scenario. We focus on what we can do and what is good right now. I ask my clients to take a minute to notice that right here, right now they are safe. Nothing bad is happening in this moment. Stop and think about what is good right here, right now in your life. There is no short-cut, but there are ways to grieve that keep it moving and get us there sooner than later.

Just a little here about anxiety. Often it’s purpose is to prepare us. If you worry that you will run out of gas in your car, you will fill the tank before it gets too low. This is helpful. Anxiety about things you can’t control is a waste of time, energy, and happiness. You can’t change or control it and you spend your life being worried, scared, and unhappy. Tell yourself you will deal with it if or when it happens. For now, focus on what is good in your life.

In 2019, David Kessler supplemented Kubler-Ross’ 5 stages of grief, adding “meaning” as the 6th stage. After coming to acceptance, we often find meaning in what has happened. Some may find that this time away from the day to day hustle has made us re-evaluate how we might spend our time to have a more fulfilling life. We will all probably have a greater appreciation for school teachers, truck drivers (who deliver our food and other supplies) and medical professionals. Maybe we will re-prioritize what we value and live a more authentic or appreciative life.

Whatever this experience brings to you– be safe, be well, and focus on the good things and people in your life today.

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