Coping with COVID-19 grief

Author: by Linda Spice '89, M.Ed. '19

Published Date: 4/6/2020

Categories: Alumni Communication Pioneers Persevere

Alumna Rebecca Iverson '99
There is something you might be feeling in these days of isolation and stay-at-home orders and Carroll alumna Rebecca (Peters) Iverson ’99 can help define it for you: grief.

Most recently a spiritual and grief counselor for Agrace Hospice, Iverson said some of the same feelings a person faces when dying surface when we are faced with trying to control the uncontrollable, as is happening now in the depths of the COVID-19 pandemic: reduced mobility, lack of control, fear of the unknown, reliance on others and “all of the things that were once part of their lives are gone or severely reduced.”

She said the pandemic experience "right now is a death of sorts." 

"I’m not talking about people who are dying from COVID but I think sometimes people misunderstand that there are death and losses all the time and this one is just a really a big one for lots of people on a grand scale,” she said. “Then you add on that layer of we don’t talk about grief or death a lot as a society so the general public isn’t given tools on how to deal with that or even language.”

Even for Iverson, who has the knowledge about grief, understands the evidence and best practices, and has helped numerous patients and families during final moments, these days are hard. She wants people to remember that it’s OK to not be OK.

“Even with all of my training, I can say, ‘Oh, I’m having a normal grief reaction,’ that’s not helpful at the moment. I had a day where I couldn’t do it anymore. I just went to bed. I just couldn’t do it. I have had feelings of, ‘What difference does it make?’ And then tried to just get back up and tried to be an example for my daughter in this is how we do things. I’m trying to be an example for her. Feel the feelings and keep going,” she said.

She added: “There’s really not a whole lot OK about this. This is not normal and it’s scary and we have feelings about it. It’s definitely OK not to be OK."

With more than 800,000 cases of coronavirus reported worldwide in early April and more than 44,000 deaths, individuals and families taking in the daily reports and warnings may wonder not if but when they will be personally affected by the virus. For many, there is an anticipatory grief which Iverson said, “is exactly what it sounds like.”

In her line of work, families of those dying are anticipating the death of their loved one and the burden of caregiving when coping with anticipatory grief, she said. In the case of individuals and families under shelter-at-home orders, the day-to-day, lack of control of life, round-the-clock caregiving and tending to others increases stress as people navigate their feelings and struggle to figure out how to make it all work.

“It can be pretty intense,” she said.

So how do we cope in these days of trying to control the uncontrollable? Here’s what Iverson suggests:

  • Be gentle with yourself and others.
  • ​Know that everybody is on edge and dealing with this thing. If somebody explodes, even if it’s yourself, say you’re sorry.
  • Find something that brings you joy.
  • Try to connect with somebody other than the people in your house.
  • If you have a spiritual practice that works for you, do that, whether mediation, prayer, or worship online.
  • Eat, sleep, take your daily medication and stay hydrated. There is a lot of emotional work that happens when you are grieving and your body needs energy to do that. So don’t be surprised if you’re tired.
A mother to 6-year-old Amelia, Iverson also offered advice publicly on her Facebook page, realizing some of the struggles parents are facing with explaining life as we know it now to their children. She noted that symptoms of grief in children include regression, crying, acting out, changes in sleep patterns, and intense emotional reactions to things that normally wouldn’t trigger them. Read her full post here on helping children to cope in this time of crisis.

She wrote, “One of the root fears of children in times like this is whether or not they will be safe and taken care for. Emphasize that you are going to do everything you can to make sure you are doing what you can to make sure they are safe and taken care for.”


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