Managing the many forms of grief and loss

Many people still associate grief and loss purely with losing a loved one. And while the COVID-19 pandemic has been really hard on those who did lose a loved one, it also helped many people understand that loss can come in many different forms.

It’s important to know that with loss comes grief. And no matter the cause or how long ago it occurred, to feel and express grief is acceptable. 

Loss comes in many forms

Among many other things, you might grieve the loss of:

  • income
  • personal freedom
  • time and opportunities
  • connection and relationships
  • routine.

In 2020, calls to Griefline’s national helpline grew more than tenfold. The spike in demand was attributed in large part to the grief and loss associated with COVID-19.

Though much time has passed since, COVID continues to impact lives. Research shows, for instance, that the shrinking of friendship networks as a result of lockdowns is a trend that hasn’t reversed for many Australians.

All types of loss can cause grief

Griefline’s Helpline Supervisor, Marianne Bowdler, says it’s important to understand that any loss, change or transition might trigger feelings of grief.

 “I’ve got a child who’s just finished university and I know there’s a sense of loss around the university experience that they imagined they’d have,” Bowdler says. “People living with long-COVID experience a loss of health and there’s significant grieving that goes on with that. And of course people who still aren’t able to travel to see loved ones may be experiencing grief over that, too.”

Even changes to how you thought the world works can cause grief.

“At Griefline, we acknowledge that grief is a response to any kind of loss, and I would say that there are subtle and less obvious losses that also cause strong feelings of grief.”

And it’s those kinds of losses that you might fail to recognise as being a cause of grief. Or you might compare them to a loss you perceive as more significant and therefore downplay their impact.

“I think that’s a really common way of thinking,” says Bowdler.

“Sometimes we don’t give ourselves permission to acknowledge the impact of a loss because we think it’s not as bad as somebody else’s. But the thing with grief is, it’s simply a response. It’s neither good or bad, justified or unjustified. It just happens.”

How to cope if you’re grieving

Regardless of the source of your grief, this handful of suggestions may help you cope.

Understand and appreciate what grief is

This can help to validate your feelings.

“Grief is a type of trauma called an attachment trauma,” says Bowdler. “We form an attachment or an emotional bond to a person, a pet, an object, or a status, and then the loss of that creates an attachment trauma, which is usually accompanied by panic and other physical symptoms. This is the biological component of grief, as opposed to the social aspect, where you want to withdraw from people and places.”

Let your grief out

“Grief has to come out, so even if you’re that person who’s holding it together for others, you have to give yourself the green light to feel it, too.”

Strategies to help you do this are wide and varied, including anything from keeping a journal about what you’re feeling to painting or creating art.

If you are grieving the loss of a loved one, you might try writing letters to them or even talking regularly to a photo of them.

Gift yourself time and self-compassion

“There’s no quick fix for grief and the length of the grieving process is different for everyone,” Bowdler says. “So give yourself time. And be kind to yourself. Understand that you might have good days and bad days and know that it’s quite natural if you feel you want to retreat and be on your own a little bit.”

Don’t feel guilty for feeling happy

You don’t have to grieve all the time and it’s okay to give yourself permission to laugh.

“There’s no obligation to stay feeling mournful 24/7. So while there will be times when you’ll cry, it’s also fine to enjoy yourself.”

Seek support from others and accept help when it’s offered

 “In the same way that some people don’t think their loss is significant enough to feel grief over, people may also feel that their loss isn’t important enough to seek or accept help for.” You may just not want to take up anyone’s time. But seeking comfort from others is important, so don’t be afraid to reach out for support.

This may be from friends and family, online forums that bring people with similar experiences together, or community groups.

You can contact Beyond Blue’s Coronavirus Mental Wellbeing Support Service to talk to someone about how you’re feeling. Counsellors are available 24/7 for a chat over the phone or online. And of course, there’s Griefline, which also offers free telephone support as well as online support services and resources.

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