Professor, Dr. philos
Specialist in clinical psychology,
Clinic for crisis psychology, Bergen, Norway
In recent weeks, in follow-up conversations with children who have lost one of their parents, I have asked them how much they fear losing others in the family because of the corona virus. I expected that their fear of surviving parents would have intensified. Usually, the fear of the other parent is high. But it had not worsened with the children I talked to. I thought about this a little and think that the children in these corona times have the other parent with them most of the time. Then they have more control and know that everything is fine with him or her. On the other hand, many have become more afraid of the elderly in the family and are happy that they cannot infect them. This is where worry and concerns intensify, and they may benefit from methods that help them manage or postpone the worries to a fixed time.
Several adult clients who have suffered painful losses or have experienced other traumatic events convey that they now feel more in line with the rest of the world. Everyone must deal with a crisis. Everyone is in the same boat and must deal with a changed everyday life. They do not feel schadenfreude but acknowledge that they do not feel so alone in having worries or experiencing difficulties in adapting to a new situation.
The corona situation comes on top of previous losses
Bereaved highlight how the corona situation can make grief even more difficult. They are in some way sensitized through past losses. They can easily imagine what it is like for those who have lost their lives, become ill or are relatives of the sick. When they see a picture of all the coffins in Italy, or the newspaper pages packed with obituaries, they know the gravity of this in a different way from those who do not have their losses close in time.
Bereaved usually do not grieve alone. They receive support from others, they take breaks from grief when they meet others, or they are at work. In everyday life, they can oscillate between going towards their grief and away from it, an oscillation that gradually makes grief easier to bear. Now everyday life is broken, contact with others is reduced, and the grief must be handled much more alone. There is always a lonely component of grief, now most of the grief is left to lonely rooms. Bereaved experience that they do not have their usual social network to rely on, and several find that the network has enough with adapting the ‘corona life’, so that they do not realize how special and heavy this is for them.
Some emphasize that by virtue of their painful experience, they feel better equipped to deal with the corona crisis. They say:
«I know a lot about how to deal with a crisis and what I need to do».
They mobilize strengths and coping methods that they have devised for themselves, and they use the methods that we have worked with jointly. It gives humility to hear how they handle this situation and how someone in the midst of their own grief reaches out to others.
Those who have experienced deaths that have been widely talked about in the media are shielding themselves from following too much in the media, because they have learned how it can increase anxiety and worry. Here too, there are very different coping methods. Some say they need to know everything; they seek out what they can find that gives them more knowledge about the epidemic and society’s efforts to fight it. One said that knowledge makes me calmer.
Good social support for bereaved in the corona era
Social support is important for bereaved. It has not become less important after the corona virus has set the agenda in the world community. But the virus disturbs the grief. In funerals we are prevented from showing our respect for the dead and support for the bereaved. We are prevented in taking part in commemorations and in making physical visits to bereaved.
We must use all the channels we can to maintain contact with those who have lost a loved one. Often our support is lasts too short. We believe that after a few months, life is back to normal, and that bereaved are feeling much better. We start to reduce our contact and care. I have called this the grief paradox: When grief feels heavier, the social support is less available. For bereaved it may be now that they really start to take in the new reality and experience grief more strongly. Remember that grief takes time. A phone or Facetime call can be incredibly good and important over time, as months go by. Find ways to show that you think about them and remind other friends and family alike. In the corona era, the spirit is to pull together for a greater cause. If you know somebody who has suffered a great loss during recent years, think of showing a little of this spirit for them.