Let’s face it-the COVID 19 pandemic was something that most could have not imagined, let alone prepared for. Life as we knew it was immediately turned upside down. While there were many losses incurred, none seemed to compare to the families who lost loved ones to COVID-19. As a society, we were called on to do everything we could to prevent this from happening. This resulted in losing our way of life as we knew it and disenfranchised grief.
Disenfranchised grief is defined as experiencing grief and loss that is not readily recognized by a person, group of people, or society as a whole. The symptoms of grief are the same-experiencing shock, sadness, guilt, regret, anger, fear-however disenfranchised grief makes the process of grieving more challenging due to the lack of validation, social support, and rituals that are often associated with grief. This can induce feelings of isolation and powerlessness, leaving one to feel helpless to reducing their own pain and struggle.
“But we were all going through the COVID-19 pandemic together,” you think. “Doesn’t this count for something?” While we can cite many examples of people making the best of a difficult situation during the pandemic, the undertone has always remained the same-our loss pales in comparison to the loss of human life. The time we lost with loved ones, the loss of our routines, missing graduations, homecoming, sports, weddings, travel plans, holiday traditions, and in general life as we knew it-these losses were expected of us to protect the greater good of human life. We told ourselves, “Those who lost loved one’s to COVID-19; THOSE are the people who are struggling.”
I am here to remind you that everyone’s grief matters. Loss in any form deserves to be validated, acknowledged, and processed. Symptoms of grief are not to be taken lightly, as left unattended can lead to depression, anxiety, and other mental health challenges. It does not serve us to minimize, separate, or compare our losses.
So, what can we do to cope with our disenfranchised grief?
Acknowledge and validate your loss. Hopefully this article started you on your journey of awareness in understanding that your loss MATTERS, regardless of the messages you have gotten from others, society, and yourself. Remind yourself that you are worthy of the time and space to grieve your loss.
Begin to get to the root of your grief. When dealing with grief, what you don’t address will ultimately address you. Avoid the urge to suppress your grief and hope it goes away; unresolved feelings have a tendency to resurface later on.
Write! Writing can be a therapeutic tool to uncover suppressed emotions. There are many writing prompts available online for coping with grief and loss. Do so slowly and with self-compassion, going at a pace that feels right to you.
Make your own grieving ritual. Part of the challenge of coping with disenfranchised grief is that there are no clear rituals to honor and provide closure for the grief experienced. Rituals will vary from person to person; however, it may help to pick a place that has emotional significance where you can spend time to honor what was lost.
Find support. If there is a name for it, someone has experienced it. Seek out friends and family members that have experienced similar losses, or that you feel are supportive. Consider what you need from others and ask for it. As always, seeking professional help is recommended, as this individual is trained to guide you through this challenging process.
With all the changes resulting form Covid-19, and continued uncertainty in the US, both parents and children are experiencing a variety of emotions. It is important to provide a space for your child to explore and discuss how they are feeling. By doing so, we can help them find solutions to problems they are anticipating and help them regulate their emotions.
Listen for and acknowledge how your child is feeling.
By listening and looking for cues from our kids in what they are experiencing it gives us a starting point to say “hey are you frustrated/sad/worried/annoyed that school is starting up again?” Acceptance and a non-judgmental attitude will go a long way in getting your kid to not only share how they are feeling but to continue to open up about their concerns as time goes on. Monitor your body-language, tone of voice and facial expressions to ensure you are coming across as accepting, caring and non-judgmental. More important then what we say is how we say it. Kids pick up on those non-verbal cues, just like we do.
Validate and normalize their perspective and experience.
Put yourself in their shoes and empathize with what they are going through. For example:
“ I understand you are scared to see your friends again, I was nervous when I had to go back to work too.”
“You feel worried about returning to school. It has been a lot of changes this month and you do not know what to expect.”
“I can see you are super excited to go back to school and see all your friends!”
“It’s hard adjusting to early wake-up times again, I hate mornings too. What are some things you are looking forward to in school that you missed?”
Be curious about what this experience means to them.
If you are not sure how your child is feeling or what they may be thinking some curious questions may help you to gauge where they are at. Examples include:
“How are you feeling about going to back school?”
“I wonder if you may be feeling nervous about going back to school?”
“What are you looking forward to most about going back to school?”
“Are you concerned about changes to your school routine?
Be encouraging and foster hope.
If your child is experiencing not-so-pleasant emotions try to help them problem solve, plan or find the silver lining.
“I know you may be worried about taking the bus again, maybe we can see if you can sit with (the neighbor, your sibling, etc)”
“I know this transition is really tough but it should be nice to see your friends again/get back into the classroom”
Check-in after the school day is over.
This transition may be difficult for kids that were not expecting it to be difficult. Those that went in excited may feel disheartened by restrictions, those who were anxious may be more anxious because everyone was wearing masks. Check in with your child to see what they are experiencing. Examples include:
“How was your day today?”
“What was it like seeing friends again?”
“What did you learn today?”
“What did you like about today?”
“Is anything worrying you?”
Seek additional support if needed.
As always, if you need more support contact your school social worker, guidance counselor or contact a local therapist.