When I started my nursing career back in 2001, I was a mature student but I didn’t feel that way faced with individuals, families and communities during their most emotive times due to death and thereafter grief.
Just two decades ago there “were” three types of grief: normal, absent, or delayed. So you were either grieving, not grieving, or due to grieve at some point in the future. It is generally accepted that there are now around seventeen different types of recognized grief processes, and I feel that is set to increase as we find ourselves in these unprecedented times.
We live in a society where we feel uncomfortable discussing death or grief; but then, in what seemed to be a blink of the eyes, people have had to face their own mortality, and that of colleagues, friends and family, as sudden death descended on our loved ones throughout society. We are rarely ever prepared for death and grief during “normal” times, and especially not so now. There has been a notable shift from feeling immortal, particularly among the young and healthy, to facing the reality that there are limits on how and when we choose to live and die. As our personal encounter with mortality forces us to observe and transform our lives, we can only hope that the societal encounter has the beautiful benefit all of us.
I have worked in healthcare for over thirty years, from the pharmaceutical field to chemotherapy nursing, and I have witnessed death and grief in so many different ways, from both a clinical and spiritual perspective. Our grief is never like anyone else’s, as we are each unique; we all have our own life experiences and beliefs, which influence how we process grief. However, there are some key elements to bereavement that always seem to make an appearance during the grieving process.
I foresee that through the COVID-19 pandemic, a new type of grief will rise, which I have started referring to as isolation grief, and it will be multifaceted in its presentations.
Firstly, the health of our loved ones is deteriorating, and it is doing so without us by their side when they need us most. The anger, uncertainty, questioning, and sadness that comes from this loss of control and feeling of hopelessness is enough to trigger a grief response in itself.
Another aspect of isolation grief, and this comes from those who have positively overcome COVID-19. Survivors have spoken about how they experienced an overwhelming sense of grief during their illness, not simply from their loss of health but due to intense emotions such as despair, hopelessness and depression.
Part of isolation grief is losing our sense of normality. When we are unable to go about our routine day of work, to socialize as we would have done just a few months ago, to have reliable income, or to freely travel, we grieve the loss of the life we knew and trusted. So whether you are affected by loss of your normal daily existence, from contracting COVID-19, or from being isolated from a loved one when they need you most, the impact of these life-changing events will surely include huge emotional repercussions.
We are in a world that has said so many last goodbyes, so many lasts of many things: words, embraces, dreams, and sometimes closure. I have no singular sentence that can comfort a world of broken minds, hearts and lives, but I hope the following ones shine a glimmer of light into the darkness that is grief.
For those of you who were unable to be with your loved one’s side when they passed, please know they were never alone. Not only would they have our amazing and courageous healthcare professionals with them during each precious last moment here on earth, they would also have had an invisible army of family, friends and maybe ancestral spirits by their side—we are never truly alone. I know you wanted to be there, and I know they wanted to have you there, but your love and communication goes beyond the limits of a hospital ward, and even this earthly plain.
So, allow all your feelings of grief to come—the shock, anger, and sadness—but try to release the guilt. Your heart is already heavy from your loss and need not be burdened even more. Breathe in the energy of your loved one, and allow it to lighten your load, knowing that some people bring such a bright light to our world that they have the power to continue to brighten our lives even after they have “gone.”
Shine on beautiful soul.
My new book, Good Grief: A Modern Day Approach to Grief Recovery, is due out in 2021 and will naturally cover some of the above topics in more depth.