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Grief and the Global Pandemic

Coping With Isolation

Okay, I'll admit it. I walked on my trail today. I stayed away as long as I could. We’ve had a lot of rain and snow recently, so that kept me inside as well. When the sun came out today, my soul was screaming for nature, so I booked it to my trail. My soul, and my body, thanked me for it. There were a few passersby, but we kept our “social distance”. It was just what I needed to spring out of the doldrums of being locked in isolation.

Our governor here in California was ahead of the game and imposed “sheltering in place” statewide about ten days ago. We all grumbled and complained, many businesses closed and people lost their jobs. This “lockdown” affects each and every citizen on a very personal level, and their stories are portrayed all across the internet.

I’m observing myself as I navigate this new paradigm. I’m trying to stay conscious and watch how I react to ALL OF IT. Before the global pandemic, I didn’t spend a lot of time on social media. Now? It seems like I spend hours perusing posts on Facebook, or videos on YouTube. I feel like I have seen EVERYTHING a person could possibly see about COVID-19, from educational posts to conspiracy theories. I tell myself to limit these distractions, but then, someone will post something so funny it makes me laugh out loud, or, something so heart-wrenchingly beautiful, tears well up.

It’s all good.

I’m learning to use my newly acquired discretionary skills to weed through and make conscious decisions and choices about how I want to spend my time. Usually, my body will tell me when I’ve spent too much time looking at screens. I start to feel yucky, a combination of nausea and depression. My mind is overcome with every possible nano byte of information it can take, and my body aches from lack of activity.

This is not how I am used to spending my days!

I have learned how to grieve over the past 3 years, but now I’m learning how to grieve while coping with a global pandemic!

Navigating a New Terrain

COVID-19 truly is a phenomenon. For some, it's causing great hardship and extreme sadness, especially if they have lost a loved one. For others, it’s creating an opportunity for growth, for going within and feeling emotions, for observing our reactions to everything we are experiencing right now, in the moment.

I wouldn’t call it an “adventure”, exactly, because it’s not necessarily pleasant, but it is an experience that requires us to be PRESENT. While I am stuck at home, without the distractions of the outside world, it’s like I am being given this amazing gift, the gift of permission. Permission to just BE. A different perspective perhaps?

It’s also uncomfortable at times. Why? It’s uncomfortable for me because I had created a grief recovery routine for myself and now that routine is broken. Any time there is major change in lifestyle, it can be experienced as loss. Loss is grief. I am experiencing the loss of my old lifestyle, the new life I am creating on my grief recovery journey. The life I was just beginning to feel comfortable with. But, I realize that everything I have gone through, all the recovery tools I have learned, is helping me to navigate this new terrain. I am being asked to step up my healing game. The grief recovery tools I have learned over the past three years must now be implemented at home, on my own.

So, how am I doing?

On a scale from 1 to 10, I’d say, today, I’m about a six. I’m working on it though. Here’s what I'm doing during the COVID-19 "shelter in place" to maintain balance and stay centered:

Sitting with my feelings: Whatever comes up. If I start to feel yucky, but can’t put my finger on it, I sit or lie down, one hand on my heart, the other on my solar plexus and BREATHE.

I do this for at least 10 minutes until whatever I’m feeling comes up and out, or passes through me. I’ve been doing this for so long now that my body/mind/spirit instantly knows it’s time for FEELING. It wasn’t like this at first, believe me, but after a while, the body understands the signal to release, relax and let go.

Taking baths: Water is healing. I take a bath just about every day. And if I didn’t have a bathtub, I would take a shower. I have a dear friend on the island of Kauai. We were talking the other night, sharing how we were feeling during the lockdown. If things weren’t already challenging enough, she got a tsunami warning one evening about 6 o’clock. This means get all your stuff and get out of there! My friend had been doing okay prior to the warning, but hearing the sirens and getting texts from her friends and family telling her to get upland were causing a lot of stress. She got into the shower and let the water run over her so that she could collect her thoughts and calm herself down. That’s a long story to say that showers can have the same soothing effect as baths. Water is always calming.

Qigong and Restorative yoga: I can’t say enough about the stress-reducing effect of these two practices. Qigong moves stagnant energy and replaces it with fresh, healthy chi. Even twenty minutes of Qigong every day can make a huge difference. I highly recommend these Qigong practitioners on You Tube:

For Restorative Yoga, I have been searching YouTube and trying out different practitioners. Restorative yoga is different from traditional yoga. Its main function is to release tension and calm the body and mind using props to help you stay in a pose longer without creating tension in your muscles. Here are a couple of videos I have tried and liked, but I’m going to continue to search until I find the perfect one!

Walking: I get out for a 3-mile walk every day. If I can’t get to my trail, I walk in my neighborhood. Today I was able to go to my trail and walk that glorious path. I have really missed my trail walks. Normally, I will hug a tree or two. Today I hugged at least 5 trees. I know I look ridiculous, but I don’t care. My neck was hurting and after five tree hugs I felt so much better. It’s amazing how much of my stagnant energy the giant cedars and pines take unto themselves and how much fresh energy (chi) they give me back. I thank each one AND the mycelium underneath, which I believe is a network from tree to tree. I visualize them talking to one another, “Here she comes, it's that grieving widow again. Make sure to give her some extra ju-ju today. She REALLY needs it!”

Phone appointments: In previous articles I have mentioned the healing I receive from practitioners on a regular basis. Well, of course I can’t go to any of these sessions right now, so instead I’ve had a couple of phone appointments, one with my network chiropractor and one with my grief counselor. They were so needed and I felt much better afterward. I also had a phone appointment with my regular medical doctor last week. It was for a check-up that I had previously scheduled. I will go in to see him in person after this crisis ends. (Because it will…END.)

In addition to the above, I’ve found some activities that make my heart sing and keep me sane while “sheltering in place”:

Coloring: I colored a lot the first year after my husband died. I find it very meditative. Here’s one of my latest masterpieces. (wink wink)

Baking: At least every other day I bake something. (All organic and gluten-free.) So far, I have made a quiche, cherry cobbler, oatmeal raisin cookies, kale chips and banana nut bread. Normally, I would share these delicacies with my friends, but since no one is co-mingling these days, it’s just my daughter and I eating all of this.

Gardening: The weather’s been changeable up here in the foothills of Northern California this month. On the same day we will have sunny skies, then clouds, then rain, then snow, then back to sun. But whenever I can, I get outside. This is part of my grief recovery. My solace. To put my hands in the dirt, plant living things and watch them grow. I love flowers. I went to my local nursery to get some soil and flowers, to cheer me up. These were more “essential” for my well-being than toilet paper.

Writing: And, of course, I continue to write. I love writing, even though sometimes the subject matter for my blog articles can bring up a lot of emotions. That’s why I’m doing it, to heal.

Fear Causes Stress

Many of us are living in fear from this virus. Fear is counterproductive to our healing. The best way to turn off fear is to turn off the news. This is easier said than done, I know. Up until a few days ago I was checking every day to see how many new cases there are in the US and how many deaths. My daughter told me I was obsessing, and she may be right, so I stopped checking. And, guess what? I feel better.

It’s okay to keep abreast of what is happening out there, but there is a balance. It’s important that we continue to take care of ourselves in every way possible. Eating healthy, exercising, being outdoors (the air is 80% less polluted right now), getting some sun (Vit D helps immunity), taking baths, talking with friends and family on the phone, LAUGHING, being creative (whatever strikes your fancy), limiting screen time, sitting with feelings, playing with animals or children. These are all healthy ways to stay mentally and physically balanced while we adjust to our new daily life.

Volunteering can alleviate fear and help us to feel like we have purpose during this challenging time. Grievers may want to serve their community in some safe way. This is okay, IF we are ready! Remember, we cannot serve others with an empty cup! If a person’s grief is fresh and raw, the odds are their cup is not full enough to help others. It’s better to help ourselves first, by staying home and using our grief recovery tools. If we are feeling particularly afraid or alone, we can reach out to our Earth Angels by phoning or video calling with them. I highly encourage grievers to reach out when feeling low, especially during these challenging times.

We will get through this, just like we will get through whatever grief we are currently enduring. We can’t let the fear of this virus keep us from feeling our sadness over the loss of our loved ones. Grief must be felt in order to move forward. Our loved ones will always be in our hearts. They aren’t in the physical form anymore, but we ARE. We must go on living, even in the face of a global pandemic!

My Fourth Spring

I had a revelation on my walk today. I was out there on my trail for the first time in two weeks, feeling grateful, and it dawned on me that this was my fourth spring without my beloved husband. My fourth spring! I can’t believe it. It seems like he died only yesterday. I was so stunned, I had to think back: three years ago I was in Seoul with my daughter right after he died; two years ago I was in Ireland with a musician couple who are friends of mine; one year ago I took my daughter to Thailand for her birthday. Wow! It HAS been four years! And this year? I’m spending this spring on a self-imposed quarantine during a global pandemic! Who would’ve thunk?

What this points out to me is that our lives are special. Every moment we breathe on this planet is precious. It may not seem like it when we are in the midst of fresh, raw grief, but sharing from my own experience, it does ease up with each passing month and year, and even though we may always feel like our beloved left us only yesterday, we can continue to engage with life. We can make the most of whatever time we have left on this planet, even while we are cooped up in our homes on quarantine.

Having the freedom to spend this time with ourselves can be a gift, if we allow it to be.

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