Coping with Loss While ‘Social Distancing’

March 25, 2020

Clinical Contributors to this Story

Ramon Solhkhah, M.D. contributes to topics such as Behavioral Health.

Coping with the loss of a loved one is really hard, no matter what. Now we face even more emotionally challenging times as we are being instructed to refrain from the very things that help people while grieving: Hug our loved ones and get together in large groups to celebrate the life of the person who passed.

We asked for advice from Ramon Solhkhah, M.D., chair of the Department of Psychiatry at Jersey Shore University Medical Center and he shared some tips to help people cope with loss while ‘social distancing’.

Put Yourself First

Despite our desire to treat things as usual, remember that we are in an unprecedented time and the most important thing is to do right now is what’s best for the living. That means avoiding big gatherings, spiritual/religious services and social events like we are used to. Make sure you take care of the most vulnerable and do what’s best to protect them against COVID-19.

Don’t Think of It as Social Distancing

Even though it’s critical that we keep a physical distance from our friends and family, it’s more important than ever to stay socially connected. Reach out to your loved ones for emotional support as much or as little as you need. You don’t have to be right next to someone to experience the benefits of grieving as a group.

Lean on Technology

Sure, it can be obnoxious to see everyone glued to their phone on a daily basis, but now’s the time to make use of all the technology that surrounds us. It’s really easy to hop on a video call, participate in a group text or initiate a conference call. Being able to hear each other’s voices, see each other’s faces and talk regularly offers some people a lot of comfort.

You can also consider virtual memorial services and ways to gather digitally to reminisce and celebrate life.

Be Judgement Free

Remember that all people cope with grief differently. You should be aware that how you deal with it may be different from other friends and family members and be judgement free. If someone wants to keep their distance, that’s ok, focus on giving everyone the space they need to cope.

Talk Often About the Future

Focus on the fact that although this time is uncertain, it is limited. At some point in the future, we will be able to turn to our traditional grieving rituals. Planning those activities now, like going to dad’s favorite restaurant or visiting the grave site, can help you cope with the grief.

Recognize that They’re Not Alone

One of the most challenging things during all of this is that many health systems put restrictions on all hospital visitors. If your loved one is in critical care in the hospital, it may feel like they’re all alone. Although there is no substitute for friends and family, try to remind each other that health care teams, by definition, care about their patients. Your loved one might not be going through this with family present, but they are surrounded by a health care team whose duty is not only to care about them medically, but to care for their psychological and emotionally needs as well.

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