Dealing with grief in the midst of a pandemic

It’s a sad fact that many of us have faced unexpected loss and grief in the past 12 months, and it never gets any easier.

We spoke to one of our Amba colleagues, Laura, who wanted to share her experience of grief in the midst of COVID-19 earlier this year.

How did grief touch your life this year?

“I lost someone incredibly important to me in January 2021: my grandfather. Sadly, because of the restrictions in place to keep us safe, I didn’t get the goodbye I wanted. In fact, I didn’t get a goodbye at all. It’s something I’m sure many people have faced during the pandemic, a very sad fact indeed, but a reality none of us expect to face until it’s actually happened. He was in hospital when he passed, and understandably there were no visitors allowed, so the whole thing was the furthest thing from ‘normal’ imaginable.

The pandemic has devastated so many people. It’s a completely unique situation, with a completely unique set of emotions and difficulties to accompany it. It’s certainly like nothing I’ve experienced before, and I know a lot of people out there have probably been in the same boat; struggling to navigate grief in this new and unpredictable world.”

“The pandemic has devastated so many people. It’s a completely unique situation.”

How did it affect you?

“I was completely devastated, and had never felt pain or guilt like it, despite the fact I had experienced loss before. I tried to keep going as best that I could, thinking it was the right thing to do. I only took a day or two off work around the time that it happened, as I felt working would help, and I just poured everything I could into those 8 hours a day – mainly because the other hours were so painful.

I wasn’t sleeping, I was hardly eating, but I was so determined to try and continue to be myself. I was trying so hard, in fact, that I wasn’t myself at all, and I didn’t even realise it.

The coronavirus pandemic certainly hasn’t made losing someone any easier, especially when you live a significant distance away from your loved ones. My father was hurting, and I couldn’t go to him. My mum was worried, but couldn’t come to take care of me. I felt incredibly isolated and alone, and felt like I would never feel ‘better’ again. I think grief makes you feel that way regardless, as sometimes you are the only person you know going through it. You start to feel you’re the only person suffering, with nobody truly grasping the depth of your pain.”

“You start to feel you’re the only person suffering, with nobody truly grasping the depth of your pain.”

How did your colleagues handle it?

“With kindness and respect. I was quite sure that despite everything, I was fine, but my colleagues who worked closest with me, my manager included, could see that I was not. To me, it had become normal that I was crying multiple times every single day, and it was okay because I was working from home so nobody could see it.

The thing is, it was starting to have an effect on my work. Little mistakes kept happening, even when I was such a perfectionist. I was totally blind to it. I just kept going, even though every day felt harder and harder to face.

“I have my manager and colleagues to thank for being such a significant part of my recovery.”

In the end, I have my manager and colleagues to thank for being such a significant part of my recovery. They made arrangements behind the scenes for me to take some time off, and ensured that I took it. When they told me I just sobbed with relief – a weight had lifted that I didn’t even know was there. I genuinely had no idea how far from normal I had gotten until that meeting, and I’ll forever be grateful that they took the time to be kind and put my well-being at the very forefront of everything they did.

If I can give any advice to employers, or to anyone who might have a colleague or friend who is struggling, I would say be patient, and be kind. A lot of my colleagues spontaneously called me throughout the week to check I was okay, without explicitly checking I was okay. Just the social contact and the chat helped elevate me on hard days, and helped me to feel like people cared and that I mattered.”

What advice would you give someone navigating through grief right now?

“Whether you’re supporting someone through it, or experiencing it yourself, it’s important to remember that grief isn’t a linear journey. It is normal to feel an incredibly wide array of emotions that change dramatically from one day to the next. One recurring emotion I personally felt was guilt, but not just about my grandfather, I felt it about my friends and the people that I worked with. I kept telling myself that I should ‘be over it by now’, that people have had more significant losses than me, and that every time I shared my grief with anyone I was annoying them. I’ve come to learn that these feelings are very common amongst people who have encountered loss. Grief in any form is incredibly valid, and unique to the person experiencing it. Express it how you need to.

One particularly useful way I processed my grief was simply by listening to it, as often it was trying to tell me about something I needed. Sometimes it was a long walk, other times it was ice cream at 3am, occasionally it was just one big, shameless cry! I found when I started to give in a bit to what my body and my mind wanted to do, I started to heal.

Another thing to remember is that time really does heal, as much as that can seem like the world’s biggest grief cliché. If you are experiencing grief right now, I want you to know that it does get easier. I was so convinced that I would never feel better, and that there would never be a day again where I didn’t break down crying at least once. But there was. There will be for you, too.

“If you have Mental Health First Aiders in your workplace – I would always recommend speaking to them.”

If you have Mental Health First Aiders in your workplace – I would always recommend speaking to them, they can signpost you or your team members to some support. Mental Health First Aiders are becoming increasingly essential in the workplace, so if you are a business without them I would absolutely consider looking into training any interested colleagues.

I would also recommend reaching out to Cruse Bereavement. There are many different ways you can speak to them, and they can help you to process and even normalise the way you are feeling.

The bottom line is that it’s still okay not to be okay – never forget that.”

Mental health workshops

We deliver a range of mental health workshops endorsed by Mental Health First Aid England.

Our two day Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) course qualifies participants to become Mental Health First Aiders. We also offer one day and half-day courses to help a wider spectrum of employees develop their understanding and reduce stigma around mental health. If we aren’t running an open course near you, contact us to arrange a virtual or on site workshop.