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Susan M. Coale, LCSW-C
Coping With COVID-19: Grief During the Holidays
Hospice of the Chesapeake

Coping With COVID-19: Grief During the Holidays

The changing season reminds us that there are many holidays looming. For grievers, there are many significant dates throughout the year, such as birthdays and anniversaries, which others may not notice or acknowledge. But the special days ahead are shared by the community around us. Whether Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Kwanza, Christmas, or bringing in the New Year, the focus is on family, love and togetherness. Traditions and rituals are important touchstones of our lives that ground us in the face of difficulty. 

The pandemic will impact many traditions this year. We generally suggest that grievers decide what traditions they may want to keep the same, modify, or even skip, giving them some control over how, or if, they celebrate. Now, a sense of control is lacking for many. Gatherings will be challenging due to safety restrictions on travel and inside gatherings. This is particularly difficult for grievers. Grief is naturally isolating, and current circumstances increase this isolation. The inability to gather to tell stories and share comforting hugs adds to the grief. Also, many grievers feel that the pandemic has upstaged their grief, as all conversations turn to COVID-19. Their grief seems forgotten by others. 

So, what to do? How to both grieve and celebrate during a pandemic? These times require us to think deeply about what we most need and find ways to meet those needs. Is there one ritual or tradition that is especially meaningful to you that can be adapted? For example, if forced to avoid travelling, maybe you can make a special family dish and share it with a nearby friend. Maybe ask your closest sibling to video call with you to reminisce about your deceased loved one. Or perhaps send a card or text to family members who you won’t see and share a special memory of your loved one. Or try making a collage about your loved one to share with others via a photo of it. Many find comfort in writing a letter to their deceased loved one about how they are faring and placing it somewhere special. 

Each person requires something different when grieving. It is helpful to ask for what you need, which could include not talking about COVID-19. This season, give yourself the gift of taking time to consider what you need for this journey, adapting traditions as you are able, and asking others for their support in meeting your needs.

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