Grief in the Time of Isolation

2019-ncov outbreak concept. Cropped close up photo portrait of terrified frightened feeling bad human wearing facial mask isolated grey dark background with empty place for text

I don’t have to tell you how difficult these past weeks have been now that we’re isolated in our homes. Without the distractions of everyday life, events and trips to plan, people to see, restaurants to try, and retail therapy, it’s easy to feel adrift. 

But, when you’re also grieving the loss of a love one, life in isolation has its own unique challenges. 

My husband Victor died 15 months ago. Grief groups, 1:1 therapy, visits with friends and family, and exercise helped me move forward. It’s been hard work, and I still get smacked down thinking of my husband and our lives together, but lately I’ve been on a pretty good track – up until the Coronavirus hit.

Now that I’m housebound and living alone, my thoughts keep wandering back to Victor. I’m sadder, lonelier, and missing him more intensely than I have in a while. 

How do I deal with those feelings? Over the last 15 months I’ve come to appreciate my instincts for what I needed to do – or not do – to move through this time in my life. I don’t know how I knew what to do, but I did, and the self-protective instincts that helped me then, are helping me now. 

I can’t tell you I’ve found any sure-fire way to keep my mind focused on living in the present and not longing for the past, but here’s what I’ve learned in the past few weeks:

Avoid known triggers

Now is not the time to clean out drawers, closets, the basement, or the garage. They’re full of memories and reminders and now is not be the time to revisit them. The deep clean can wait.

Do what’s best for yourself in the moment

When I’m feeling especially vulnerable and my emotions are close to the surface, I don’t scroll through photos and videos on my phone. When my thoughts turn to what-if and why didn’t I do more, I distract myself with a walk, a bite to eat, or a phone call. In other words, don’t kick yourself when you’re down.  

Connect with people

I organize free video get-togethers with friends, I have a list of people to call on a regular basis, and when I walk, I say hello to my neighbors. You can isolate yourself physically, but don’t do it socially.  

Volunteer

I found a COVID-19 virtual volunteer site for the county I live in and help out when I can. I also bake cookies for my neighbors and service people. Reach out beyond your own pain to help others, whether it’s through an organization or just something you do on your own.

Keep moving

I used to swim 4 times a week. Now that the pool has closed, I walk. There are also a lot of online live and on-demand dance parties and fitness classes. There’s nothing better than a good, endorphin boost. But, when I can’t walk, or I don’t want to, I drive. I put the dog in the car and go for a drive. Keep your mind and your body moving. 

Create your mantra

I have several that are on rotation depending on my mood: “I can do this.” “I will have a life.” “There is happiness for me.” “I won’t be stuck in the house forever.” When you find yourself flagging, come up with your own mantra.

All of that is easier said than done, I know. But, in this time of isolation, when we’re grieving not just the loss of our loved one, but the loss of the new life we’ve been working hard to build without them – it’s easy to sink. 

As anyone who is grieving knows, we grieve in our own way and at our own pace. So, if you can’t move forward right now, if it’s too soon or too raw, then at least stay in place and tread water. And, if you are treading water, make sure your head is high enough above the water line that you can see land, because it’s there, and someday you’ll be able to crawl ashore and stand. 

Sarah Miller, a freelance writer, and instructional designer in Washington, DC, is at 15 months now. Read Sarah’s other Grief Dialogues Blog Post Eleven Months.

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3 thoughts on “Grief in the Time of Isolation”

  1. Sarah, this is sage advice, clearly hard-earned the good old fashioned way, from personal experience. Thank you for sharing your wisdom with others.

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