Just a few short months ago, families were counting the days until spring break, celebrating Valentine’s Day or arranging carpools for spring sports practices. There were no worries about spending time with friends after school or running to the grocery store. Social distancing and PPE were words not used in everyday conversation. Fast forward to today, and life continues, but in a much different way than any of us ever could have expected. No matter how life has changed for you personally or your family, many of us are grieving over lost employment, school events and time with people we love.
The feeling of grief is a natural response to loss. While we often equate grief with the death of a loved one, grief encompasses so many more circumstances. For example, many families may be experiencing grief over loss of jobs or financial stability during this unprecedented quarantine, while children are grieving over missing their friends, teachers, daily routines and school activities. Coping with these losses, and these challenges, can cause feelings of grief.
5 Stages of Grief
You’ve probably heard about the five stages of grief. While everyone’s journey to process grief will differ, there are some commonalities, such as feelings of:
- Denial — You may think, “this can’t be happening.”
- Anger — Thoughts might shift to, “Why is this happening to me?” or “Whose fault is this?”
- Bargaining — These thoughts can turn to “what ifs,” “if onlys” or “make this not happen and I will do something in return.”
- Depression — At this stage, you simply may feel too sad to do anything at all.
- Acceptance — Thoughts at this time often find the person at peace with the situation or outcome.
Some important takeaways from these stages include:
- Not everyone will experience all of these stages or this order.
- Don’t worry about what you “should” feel or be feeling.
- Understand that these reactions are natural.
- Everyone will experience grief in their own way.
- Everyone will heal from grief in their own way and time.
Emotional and Physical Symptoms or Signs of Grief
It may seem that extreme sadness is the obvious emotional response to grief, but there are other feelings that can be experienced and expressed, such as shock, numbness, disbelief, guilt, anger or fear. For example, school-aged children may express fear over losing their friends or loved ones during the quarantine. Not being able to see teachers or classmates each day can contribute to that fear. Older youth may be angry that long-awaited milestones have been taken away during this time, such as class trips, spring athletics, concerts, prom or awards ceremonies. For high school or college seniors, the loss of this time with friends before moving to a next stage in life can be especially devastating.
But grief is not only an emotional response to loss. It’s not unusual for people going through the grief process to experience physical symptoms. In fact, grief can manifest in some people as actual physical aches or pains. Some other signs can include feelings of fatigue or feeling tired all of the time, nausea or upset stomach, insomnia or trouble sleeping, weight loss or weight gain. Some people even find that they get sick more easily, as grief can lower the body’s immune response.
Tips to Help Your Kids (and Yourself) Process Grief and Move Forward
Connect with others. During this time of isolation, many people have found comfort by reaching out to others on social media, over the phone or through virtual chats. This simple human connection has sustained many during an uncertain and lonely time.
Find a creative outlet. Expressing loss and feelings of grief through journaling, music, scrapbooking, sewing, painting, drawing or other artistic outlets can help to channel those feelings and let them out in unique ways.
Feel your feelings. Don’t let other people tell you or your children how they should feel or react. Phrases such as “Get over it” or “You need to move on” are not only unhelpful but can cause more damage. It’s a personal journey. As parents, helping children find safe and effective ways to express their frustrations can be cathartic and bring you closer together.
Stay active. While physical activities are limited for many people, finding ways to burn off excess energy can help to reduce stress and blow off steam. Walking outside, having a dance party with your kids or watching an exercise video on YouTube all can help and don’t cost extra money.
Schedule telehealth services. If you or your children are struggling and need professional help, it’s important to reach out to your mental health professionals, counselors or healthcare providers to connect with telehealth services. Learn more about telehealth services here.