As the world begins to open again and safety guidelines are changing, many individuals continue to struggle with depression and anxiety related to the COVID-19 Pandemic.
During the last few months, one of the phrases that I have heard often is “I shouldn’t feel so bad. There are people who have lost more than I have.” Although this might be a phrase that appears to make sense logically, the phrase doesn’t give respect to your emotions and the impact that any loss can have on the human experience.
The pandemic has taken so much in a variety of ways, from the loss of life to the loss of a sense of safety. It is important in the process of healing and moving forward to honor those losses and the grief that is felt as a result.
What is Disenfranchised Grief?
The concept of Disenfranchised Grief was first introduced in 1989 by Dr. Kenneth Doka, defined as “a loss that is not openly acknowledged, socially validated, or publicly mourned.” Some examples of Disenfranchised Grief include death of an ex-partner, death of a pet, or a miscarriage.
In these examples, the grief/loss felt by someone may not be acknowledged due to their relationship to the deceased, the perceived legitimacy of the loss, or loss related to traumatic events that are difficult to discuss. The safety measures and socially distancing guidelines that were enacted during the COVID-19 pandemic have caused feelings of loss and sadness that may also not seem to be “legitimate” in comparison to grief felt as a response to death of a loved one.
The loss of a job, missed birthday/wedding celebrations, loss of relationships, or even the loss of socialization at school for children are all losses from the pandemic that tend to be minimized or discredited in respect to the larger loss of life. Families have also lost the rituals of mourning and acknowledgement of the death due to restrictions on public gatherings, such as funerals or memorials.
Regardless of socially validated or acknowledgement of the loss, it is important that individuals respect their own emotional reactions in response to the losses felt during the past year. Grief reactions can be experienced as feelings of sadness, despair or anger, difficulty concentrating, feeling numb or emotionless, or changes in sleep/appetite. Discrediting, invalidating, or ignoring feelings of sadness or grief can further complicate the grief process and prevent healing from the loss.
Steps to support healing from grief/loss
- Recognize Your Loss:
Take the time to validate feelings of sadness or anger regarding the loss that has been experienced. Either verbally or in writing, validate why your feelings make sense in regard to this loss. For example, “it makes sense that I feel sad about not getting to have a birthday party because I really enjoy having fun with my friends” or “it makes sense that I am grieving the death of my ex-husband because he was someone that I cared about deeply.” In acknowledging the feelings about the loss, this can help to reduce feelings of shame or guilt and empower healthy reactions in healing.
- Create Your Own Mourning Ritual:
Rituals can help to provide further acknowledgement or acceptance of the loss, and help with finding a sense of closure. Rituals can also provide further comfort as time goes by as it is a way to connect you to the person, place, or thing that you have lost. There are many options for what ritual might feel most authentic to the loss you have experienced; such as writing a goodbye letter, preparing a special meal, or holding a private/individual memorial service.
- Reach Out to Others:
Connect with others who have had similar experiences. This can help to acknowledge your own loss and begin healing through supporting each other’s feelings. These connections can also create a safe space for you to express your feelings and process what this loss has meant to you. Even reaching out to someone who may not have experienced or understand what you are going through, the process of connecting to others can support self-care as you are healing and provide a sense of connection to the present.
Professionals can help
It is also important to recognize when professional help may be beneficial or warranted. If feelings of grief/loss begin to feel like more severe depression, then it is important to seek help from a therapist or doctor.
This could be evidenced by increased difficulty in functioning or completing routine tasks, difficulty completing work or responsibilities, or sadness that lasts for an extended period. In these times, a licensed professional may be able to help you with being able to understand and validate your loss, identify ways to cope with this loss, and help you to make any adjustments that may be a part of your new life after the loss.
As the focus shifts toward returning to our previous sense of normalcy, keep in mind the value of respecting your emotions and experience through the last year as part of healing in the way forward.