Social Distancing through Grief

For anyone who has lost someone they love knows that grief and death are extremely lonely. The current state of our world right now amid the COVID-19 pandemic, is also very lonely. The reality that your entire world feels like it has immediately stopped is a very dark and grim place to be. This holds true for losing a loved one as well as many people in the heart of our world right now. Regardless of your world stopping, life continues to move on. There is nothing you can do to stop it.

Life continues on

Those days, weeks, and months after you lose someone feel like a cruel joke. Why are you just “stuck” in this place of grief, anger, pain, hurt, sadness, despair, etc. while everyone else goes on about their lives? My world has come to a screeching halt, so why can’t life do the same? Again… cruel joke.

Today, life is at a bit of a standstill. Parts of our world have begun to slow down because they have to. With the notion that life continues on, people all over the world are losing someone they love. The difference right now is that hospitals have put in new directives that limit the amount of visitors a patient can have in the room with them. Those realities are painful, and they are scary. My heart breaks for the many people who are trying to survive a loss right now without physical support from their family and friends. My heart breaks for the many people who are dying in hospitals without family and friends there to hold their hand. Itโ€™s absolutely awful.

Social distancing is all you read or hear people talking about right now. Distance isn’t a new concept for people who are grieving. The person we lost grows more distant each and every day, while we have also seen distance among family, friends, acquaintances, etc. Not because we wanted it to happen, but because maybe it was difficult to be around someone in so much pain and grief or because their presence was a painful reminder of what we lost. I understand how real those feelings are in that moment. I understand how valid they are. I also understand how difficult it is to sit with someone in their pain because I know how tough it can be to be around me on my worst days. I don’t even enjoy being around me on those days. It is a painful place to be. The only difference is those who are grieving don’t have a choice. They can’t get out of that painful place.

While distance isn’t a notion we are unfamiliar with, it is still not a healthy place to be. Social distancing through grief is not good for one’s mental health. The additional time alone leaves me with my thoughts, and when I am left with my thoughts, I usually go down a rabbit hole… which doesn’t bode well for my mental health.
Everyone has resorted to video conferencing to have contact, and while it is holding us together for the time being, it is not the same as physically being around others. Not being able to be around my family and friends has been extremely difficult. Special events have been cancelled or postponed. I was planning to attend events to honor my grief and to improve my self-care, and now I am unable to partake in them. I know this holds true for so many others as well.

Ellis’ 3rd birthday is just under one month away and there are very harsh realities that come with that. There is more distance in the time since I last held him. People automatically think that the more distance, the less intense emotions or less intense grief. I think those sitting with us in our pain find comfort in that. For me, it is the exact opposite. The more distance in time brings on a more intense grief, and a more intense guilt. It is another reminder that he is gone. It is another reminder that this is my new reality. One I have to live with every. single. day. That reminder is excruciatingly painful.

Not being able to be around my family and close friends during this time adds an entirely new layer of lonely. They most likely won’t be here in Omaha, celebrating his 3rd birthday with us. Sprucing up his garden. Planting new flowers. Writing messages to him and sending up a lantern. Eating cake. Physically sitting with each other through our pain while sharing memories from May 7, 2017. Ellis’ birthday will be very different for us this year. I know that any expectations of what I thought the day would be like should be tossed out the window. Deep down, I am aware of that reality. It still doesn’t make it any easier, or any less painful.

While I am aware that this social distancing through grief isn’t great for one’s mental health, we can find ways to help ourselves. Unfortunately, we are in the middle of a pandemic and staying home is a non-negotiable. We are not able to be physically together during this time, so we have to find ways to be together “socially” or “virtually”. It’s not the hand I wish I was dealt, but then again, neither is losing my child.
Thankfully, I have been a part of some virtual experiences offered through the Hopeful Heart Project. One of them is Yoga Nidra, which is a guided meditation practice. This was a great experience for me. Being able to dress comfortably (which is all I’ve been doing these days), curl up in a blanket, light a candle, and honor Ellis while checking in with other moms who have lost is a great way to implement self-care. If you are someone who has lost a child and would like to participate, please follow Hopeful Heart Project at https://m.facebook.com/hopefulheartproject/ and check out their events. The community of mothers through Hopeful Heart Project is a gentle and supportive one. I have felt so much love and support from them, even being 6 hours away.

April 7th was yesterday… Ellis would be 35 months, and that reality continues to get harder to believe. It is difficult to cope. As I said earlier, I am growing more distant from him as the time passes. What doesn’t pass is my pain and grief. That will always be with me. What I need to do for myself is find a way to survive those heavy emotions and keep moving. One way I can do this is to implement self-care. Writing is one way for me to cope with my grief. Finding new ways to honor Ellis is another way.

As I close out this post, I want to challenge you: What are your preferred ways to cope with your grief? How can you give yourself limits so you do not grow dependent on coping as a way of avoiding your emotions?

Regardless of where you are in your grief, I encourage you to find people to support you. Find those people that sit in your grief with you. They will quickly become your tribe. You will appreciate them more than you could ever put into words. I know I do โค

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