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Grief in a Pandemic: Resources for Troubling Times

Currently, the world is facing a global health crisis as novel coronavirus seeds infection from one continent to the next. I'm not telling you anything you don't know. As an already grieving mother, I am all too familiar with the knot of panic that consumes me when my living children fall ill or I feel another life in our family is threatened in any way. So, as the grip of fear begins to fill lines at the pharmacy and empty supermarket shelves, I can't help but think of my fellow grieving parents, grandparents, and siblings, who have already lost so much, and may feel hit hardest by this wave of fresh anxiety.

I want to share a few reminders with each of you, as well as a very simple list of resources, as we all navigate this strange, new landscape we find ourselves in until this virus burns itself out.

First, hold yourself gently. You might be frantic at the idea that you will not be able to protect yourself or your living children. You might be triggered by coverage on the news of international and domestic cases and fatalities. It is likely, with what you have endured, that your biological alarm system is already working in overdrive. That is to be expected. If you find yourself shaken by this turn of events more than your non-grieving neighbors, know that you are experiencing a normal reaction in a non-normal situation. Be loving and tender with yourself. Reach for comfort. If you need to gather supplies or self isolate or turn off the television set or break from social media for a bit—do so. Please take care of your mental and emotional health even as you focus on your physical health and that of your family.

Second, honor your unique perspective—the world needs it. Even as everyone else erupts into arguments over the politicizing of a distinctly human experience, remember that you know what others don't. You know the cost of a life. You know what really matters. You know that compassion and kindness are required as we face times like these. You know that even if your family fairs well or our nation fairs well, there are real people who have lost real lives in the rest of the world, whose families are hurting. You know how to view this epidemic with your heart and your head, while so many others resort to angry ranting or me-first thinking. You understand the value of community, even in a time when we are called to keep apart. You know how to pull together, offer support, uplift and encourage and just listen when that's all that's possible. You know how to sit in the discomfort. You have something to give.

Third, seek support. It's okay, even now, to ask for help. We have innumerable resources at our disposal. You are not alone. Avail yourself of the myriad Facebook groups, online blogs and publications, and national hotlines that are available to you. Stay connected even when you keep physical distance. Take advantage of Skype, FaceTime, Zoom, Marco Polo and other face-to-face communication technologies. Reach out. If you are feeling anxiety or depression or a fresh wave of grief, find somewhere to share your feelings where you can be listened to, validated, and understood. Consider creating online groups or meetings to support one another at just this time. I will list a few resources in this regard below.

Fourth, check in. Take a minute in the midst of the flurry of activity and news to check in with your grieving self. Can you name what you are feeling? Do you need some time to be with your deceased child's memory, away from the craziness of what's happening? Are you facing a birthday, anniversary, or other significant holiday that holds particular pain or importance for you? How can you still honor that? Are you reminded of your child's death in ways you normally wouldn't be? How are you sleeping, breathing, eating? Touch down and get a sense of where you are and what you need. Recognize if the world's collective grief is triggering your own personal grief. Care for yourself as a grieving person. Know that your grief journey continues even in the middle of a larger crisis.

Fifth, nurture yourself. It may sound odd when the grocery store is nearly empty and you're focused on counting to twenty every time you wash your hands. But this is not a time to withhold from yourself. What do you need to support your unique set of needs at this unique time? Whether it's hot tea or calming supplements or gentle music or a weighted blanket—find tangible ways to give to that part of yourself that needs oh-so-much reassurance. Consider coloring books, CBD, nutrition, curling up with your favorite read, board games with your family, yoga, warm baths, meditation. It can be anything. You know best how to comfort yourself. You have learned that the hardest way of all.

Sixth, check the facts. Panic often ensues when our minds begin swirling in the direction of countless negative possibilities. What if I can't protect my child? What if I can't feed my family or get them medicine? What if I can't go to work and make money? What if, what if, what if ... For those of us who have already lost a child, we know how real those possibilities can become. It's even easier for us to imagine such devastating ends. And that means it's even easier for us to panic. When you find yourself rushing down the worst possible road in your mind, pull back and check the facts. Are you ill? Is anyone in your house ill? What are the statistics around this disease? Have you prepared yourself and your family in whatever ways you were instructed? Is there actually anything else you can do? Are you in immediate danger? The facts will often ground you back in the reality of the present moment. And that's the only place where you can take any viable action if needed.

Seventh, keep it simple. Breathe in. Breathe out. As my beautiful girl put it, "This is the one thing, the one thing that you can do ... " Practice grounding yourself—where are you right now? What are you wearing? What are you seeing, hearing, smelling? Use your senses to bring you back. Remember that you can only take one step at a time. Focus on the immediate next step. When you've completed that, you can focus on the immediate next step after this one. What needs doing right now? What can wait? Narrow your focus down to single tasks. Narrow it down more to single breaths. Keep narrowing it down until you can relax.

Eighth, there's no shame. However you respond to this, there's no shame in it. If you are frightened. If you are ambivalent. If you are overstocked on supplies. If you haven't bothered to visit the store. If you can't handle the store still. If none of it matters because your child is gone and you can't access enough space to care yet. Whatever it is, wherever you are, do not be ashamed of it. Take a genuine assessment of where you're at and where the authorities are saying you need to be, and see what you can do or what support you can find to cross that gap if there is one. Harvey drowned our home city only a week or two after we held Evelyn's memorial, and my husband and I barely knew it was happening. We couldn't lift our heads high enough to register the natural disaster over our personal one. It's okay. Our capacity was what it was. As is yours.

Online support:

The Compassionate Friends Facebook Groups (click here for a full list)

The Compassionate Friends online chat rooms (click here for a full list)

Helping Parents Heal Caring Listeners (click here for a full list)

National Hotlines & Assistance:

National Suicide Hotline 1-800-SUICIDE

Depression & Crisis Hotline 1-800-784-2433

Better Help Online Counseling

Grief Recovery Institute 818-907-9600

Coronavirus Updates & Information:

Centers for Disease Control (click here)

World Health Organization (click here)

If you have additional resources or tips for the grieving community, please share them in the comments section below.

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