Life Advice: Processing Grief During Difficult Times

The numbers of lives lost in the US (due to Covid) alone are staggering at 641,000 as of August 31, 2021. Throughout the pandemic and perhaps even for the foreseeable future, we have all had to socially distance, delay visits with extended family and friends and in some cases completely avoid travel. Overseas travel has been particularly difficult if not impossible over this period.

While these efforts helped us to flatten the curve, many people who have lost loved ones during this period have had a very different experience of grief. According to the CDC, death rates increased by 15.9% in 2020, while our life expectancy decreased by 1.5 years.

Meanwhile, Americans have not been able to grieve their loved ones in familiar rituals that brought people from near and far together to share their grief in memorials, celebrations of life and other group events. Online memorials have left the bereaved feeling cheated and, in some instances, may contribute to prolonging or preventing them from healing.

Prolonged Grief Disorder (PGD), where our normal human functioning is disrupted by intense bereavement, afflicts about 10% of those who have lost a close family member or friend. While most of us won’t experience PGD when a loved one passes away, the pandemic has disrupted how all of us mourn and process the loss of our loved ones. If you do find yourself, after having lost a loved one, unable to function normally after a few months, consider reaching out to a therapist or counselor.

The public experience of mourning a loved one helps to move people through an already difficult process. Sharing pleasant memories and stories, physical contact like hugs, emotional support, having meals and time together all tap into a deep human need for community during times of intense struggle, such as death. It is especially helpful for those closest to the deceased who in many ways are experiencing a physical loss that others can help to fill during the worst of moments.

I think of my own experience over the last year of losing two dear people to me: the first was one of my best friends and the second was my father.

In the case of a friend of mine, he died suddenly in a rock-climbing accident at the beginning of the pandemic. No public funeral or ceremony was held for him. There were a few posts on social media where people talked about the impact he had on their lives. Some back and forth comments took place but there was a flat asynchronous energy to the sharing of our loss. More than a year has passed and even today there are moments when I feel like his passing is unresolved to me.

Whereas when my father died in June, our family was able to come together and celebrate his life. Relatives came from all over the U.S., even my brother from London made it in, despite multiple Covid tests and 10-day quarantine upon his return home. Family friends (with masks) came to pay their respects, neighbors, high school teachers, other military veterans all came.  My uncle and aunt drove 1,000 miles to attend. Throughout the wake, potlucks, memorial service, burial and even visiting the plot a week later, we were able to share and reflect on our loss and savor the wonderful memories of our father, spouse, friend, neighbor, and colleague. While still grieving, there was and continues to be a sense of healing and peace to our loss.

As the United States is slowly opening back up in fits and starts, we are heartened to hear stories of people, families and friends coming together in ways that are safe to celebrate the passages and losses that have occurred over this very difficult period.

If you would like to have a conversation, we are here to help. Contact me directly at steve.branton@privateocean.com.

Steve Branton, CFP, CPCC is a financial advisor, an Accredited Domestic Partner Advisor (ADPA), specially trained to advise on various financial issues including marriage planning, wealth transfers, federal taxation, retirement planning, and medical end-of-life needs for domestic partners and non-traditional clients, and a Certified Co-Active Coach (CPCC). 

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