If you can’t mourn the death of a loved one the way you want to right now, these grief counselors still have tips for getting through it.
While states in the US are currently in different phases of reopening, most funeral services are still being held remotely or with limited attendance, due to social distancing measures. That means people are left to mourn on their own, attending memorial services over Zoom while unable to physically gather with family and friends for support.
Adding loss to the already difficult nature of the pandemic — which has sparked anxieties about health, economic stability, and an uncertain future — can make life feel downright unmanageable. However, there are ways to get through this time, and you’re not alone. Allure spoke with grief counselors who offered some advice about how to cope with socially-distanced mourning right now.
Make the most of your virtual support
The in-person support systems we would normally turn to after the death of a loved one, like the family members who sit shiva with you or the friend who simply hugs you while you cry, aren’t necessarily available to us now. But we can still find comfort by staying digitally connected with others. While virtual memorial services fall short of graveside mourning surrounded by friends and family, they can still provide an outlet for collective grief.
“You can still talk to people [over Zoom]; it might not be exactly the same, but it replicates it [to an extent.] I think encouraging people to take an opportunity to engage virtually is important,” says Diane Brennan, a licensed mental health counselor who specializes in bereavement, based in New York City. “Don’t discount that it can still be productive and helpful in the immediate — those are important things.”
Joining a grief support group online can also be beneficial, especially if you’re not sure which friend or family member to talk to about what you’re going through, according to Jane Dorlester, a licensed clinical social worker and grief specialist practicing in Brooklyn, New York. “Chances are there’s going to be someone who understands how you feel,” she says. “You have other people who are also going through it, and that helps.”
You could also talk to a therapist, who can conduct virtual appointments via phone or video call. If you want to focus on getting help coping with loss, sites like Psychology Today allow you to search specifically for a professional who specializes in bereavement work.
Create rituals to memorialize your loved one
Taking time to grieve and remember the person you lost is important for processing your feelings, and there are rituals and moments of remembrance you can do on your own, Dorlester explains. She recommends engaging in activities that make you feel “attached to them even though they’re not there, and that can flood you with fond memories of the person.”
This could be cooking a favorite recipe that you associate with them, going to the park and writing a letter to them every week at the same time, making a playlist of songs that you both enjoyed. You could also fill a box with mementos and photos, and use it as a kind of stand-in for a memorial. Brennan recommends lighting a candle and journaling about the person, painting scenes that are reminiscent of time you spent together, or reading a poem that makes you think of them. You could also create a photo album or a display in your home as a way of honoring them.
There may also be safe, socially-distanced ways to hold a ceremony with others. Brennan suggests finding open space outside where you and a few people (each six feet apart) can send off paper lanterns, or creating an outdoor memorial that friends can visit on their own time.
Acknowledge that mourning is particularly difficult right now
“Right now, there’s a different element to [grief], because people may not have been able to see the person when they were sick or dying,” explains Brennan. “There could be a little more guilt or deeper sadness.” Dealing with additional emotions can complicate the grief and make recovering and processing emotions even more challenging now, but it can help to acknowledge that reality, she says.
“There’s no workaround for grief. There’s no one way to grieve, and everyone grieves differently,” according to New York City-based family grief counselor and certified thanatologist Jill Cohen. Grieving while socially isolated can lead to too much time ruminating in your head, which can intensify the feelings of sadness, she says.
People who are grieving are “grieving harder” because “we can’t see what the future is like, nothing is certain” explains Cohen. She suggests “radical acceptance”—a concept rooted in mindfulness, which asserts the importance of acknowledging the reality of your hardship, without judging your emotional response to it — of the challenges of current circumstance.
Dorlester concurs and tells clients it’s important to “acknowledge that you are very sad”—a deceptively simple but crucial first step to begin healing from grief. She recommends practicing the Alexander technique, a mind-body relaxation exercise similar to yoga and meditation that can help people process emotions in their body.
Brennan reminds clients not to let self-care slide, which can easily happen when you have a lot going on. “Especially in the earlier stages [of mourning], make sure you’re eating regularly, keeping yourself nutritionally healthy, and getting in some exercise,” she says. “Remember to take the time to take care of you.”
Plan something special for when we can mourn together again
Whether it’s holding a service over Zoom, engaging in solo rituals, or creating makeshift memorials, it can be helpful to think of the socially-distanced mourning we’re able to do now as temporary measures. Be reassured that there will be a time when you can hold a more formal, in person memorial. Planning a future service can function as part of the grieving process.