Tips for people grieving over pandemic-related losses

Pandemic-related losses, large and small, may be causing people to grieve, and a D.C. counselor has some advice that may be able to help.

“I think we’re all experiencing grief on a variety of different levels,” said Cheryl Hughes, a clinical social worker for the palliative care team at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital. “All of us across the country are grieving some things right now.”

Individuals can experience grief in different ways.

People might have trouble concentrating, not feel like eating or eat too much. Some might have nightmares or insomnia. Hughes said people should pay attention to intrusive thoughts that get in the way of enjoying small, everyday things.

Hughes suggests coping strategies that include taking time to focus on what it feels like to take care of yourself. Be gentle and kind with yourself, she said.

Do things that make you feel better: Research shows that taking a long walk in nature can help. Tell people around you who care about your wellbeing what you need from them.

“Gratitude journals can be very powerful,” Hughes said. “And, it’s short and sweet — you basically at the end of every day think of three things that happened in the last 24 hours for which you’re grateful.”

That allows you to re-experience positive things going on in your life.

“And, what also happens as you make this a practice is — you start to search your day for the positives as opposed to dwelling on some of the negative things.”

If you want to comfort someone who’s grieving, Hughes suggests calling to check in, sending a lovely card or dropping off a meal. Don’t ask how you can help. Just do things.

And, don’t give advice; just listen. Beware of using the words “at least.”

“Anything that begins with the words ‘at least’ isn’t holding space for whatever loss that person is experiencing,” Hughes said. “Holding space can sometimes mean just quietly listening and maybe not saying anything other than, ‘I am so sorry.'”

Someone being given a heartfelt “I’m sorry” from a friend who sincerely means it can help that person feel heard about their loss, she said.

“It can help them move through the process of grieving,” Hughes said, pointing out that there is no “end time” to grief.

“Grief comes and goes. It can happen days, weeks, months or even years after a loss and it can feel, even years after a loss, just like you’re back in the middle of it,” Hughes said.

She also notes that grief can be triggered, for example, by memories, which could make experiencing the holidays especially difficult.

If you’re mourning someone’s death, Hughes said hospice organizations region-wide offer grief support, even if the person who died did not receive hospice care. And here’s a link to the Disaster Distress Helpline.


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