Grief in the Midst of COVID-19: Mourning Our Losses
Advice on engaging the unique grieving process revealed by the coronavirus pandemic
Wednesday, April 8, 2020
Red flowers surround a fountain in the meditation garden

Anxiety is a prominent emotion as we live in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Frustration is also present in many of our lives, especially for those who have become homeschool teachers or wrestle with technological challenges as classes and work have become remote.

Are you also aware that grief is one of the ingredients in the “stress gumbo” of your emotional life? I invite you to name the flavors—both pungent and subtle—that is in the mix of your particular grief.

For students, there are many pungent losses. Gone is the in-class learning environment. Gone are in-person conversations and recreation with Trinity friends and romantic partners. Gone is the in-person bonding that was occurring among sorority sisters or fraternity brothers so soon after bid day. Gone are the athletic practices, competitions, and camaraderie among teammates. 

Some losses are neither tangible nor visible. As psychologist Dr. Robert Neimeyer recently stated, these losses include “our sense of predictability, control, justice and the belief that we can protect our children or elderly loved ones.” Likewise, our sense of safety is a casualty of the pandemic.

One significant, intangible loss for many students is the independence they enjoyed while attending Trinity. Students have been navigating a developmental time of “leaving the nest” while away from home at college. Now most of them are back home, their journey into adulthood interrupted.

In addition to grieving what has been lost (at least temporarily), we are also grieving losses that are to come. This anticipatory grief is also in the mix of our stress gumbo, a subtle flavor mingling with the pungent taste of fear about what may shape our futures.

To be sure, there is the potential for significant grief ahead from death and financial fallout. Even in a best case scenario, our lives will change. A “new normal” will emerge after the pandemic subsides. For those of us who don’t like change, we now anticipate the loss of “business as usual”—or more broadly, “life as usual.”

I can only begin to imagine the myriad of losses you have experienced during the past month and the losses you anticipate in the months to come. What other losses—experienced and anticipated—are flavoring your stress gumbo?

How do we go forward in the midst of swirling emotions, including grief? As life may have previously taught you, you can’t just “get over” grief or any other emotion. You have to go through it. The journey through grief (and fear and despair and…) toward hope is best a shared journey. My hope for you is that you have at least one person in your life with whom you might share conversation about the losses each of you has experienced and as well as fears about the losses to come.

If you think talking with a professional counselor would be helpful, faculty and staff have access to free counseling through the Employee Assistance program that Trinity offers. Students can learn about what Counseling Services offers on the COVID-19 webpage

This article is part of a series aimed to help students, faculty, and staff manage distance learning, working, and living during the COVID-19 pandemic. For more information and resources for Counseling Services, visit gotu.us/covid19.

Richard Reams, Ph.D., is the associate director for counseling services.

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