COVID-19 Brings New Levels of Grief
A warm pat on the back. A shoulder to cry on. The gentle touch of a hand during a shared prayer.
These were the gestures of comfort offered by Barbara Manning, Board Certified Chaplain, at Silver Cross Hospital in New Lenox.
“But since COVID, I can’t do that anymore,” Manning said. “Now, I use the tone of my voice, my eyes and my body language to offer comfort. It’s not the same, but they still have a sense of my care, support and presence.”
During the past 6 years, Manning, a former administrative assistant at Silver Cross, has been part of a team helping to heal the body, mind and soul for patients, families and staff.
“These three parts are intertwined in our very being and work in unison. For instance, stress (mind) can affect (body) high blood pressure, headaches, muscle tension, etc. Prayer, music, art, nature (spirit) restores peacefulness and calms our minds, which affects our body.”
Before COVID, Manning would visit patients during the week, listening to determine what kind of support they needed. Sometimes, it was just a sympathetic ear, a shared prayer or words of encouragement and comfort for those in a strange and sometimes scary place. She still does that now, but for patients in Isolation, she would call the patients and do a “phone visit.”
Those feelings and needs exploded, especially during the early days of the pandemic, when little was known except people were coming in sick, and treatments were yet uncertain. The stress and the grief at times pushed everyone to the brink, including staff, many of whom never had seen such suffering.
“I saw their pain and wanted to take it away for them. I felt helpless. I did what I knew how to do … I prayed.”
“I would talk with staff one on one when their schedules allowed,” Manning said. “Just to offer an ear and some encouragement. If I saw someone having a particularly bad day, I would leave a card with an inspirational note.
“One nurse I left a card for anonymously said she knew it was from me. She said, ‘Thank you. I needed that.’
“For families who have lost a loved one, the lack of closure is the most difficult part. Those families also didn’t get a chance to have the type of memorial service they would have liked.”
And COVID has brought on so many different types of grieving, Manning said.
“Whenever we experience a loss, we grieve that loss. For example: the loss of a job, financial strains, isolation from social interaction with others, planned vacations and truly the death of a loved one.”
Grief manifests itself in many different forms, she said. “We can’t sleep, or that’s all we want to do is sleep. We can’t eat or we eat ‘comfort’ foods more than we should. We don’t want to move and feel paralyzed or we are going in a million different directions with no purpose. It’s hard to concentrate, make decisions and sometimes we just have an emotional outburst.
“Grief is real and these behaviors are normal. The best thing we can do is to acknowledge to ourselves that we are grieving! Don’t suppress it, but choose to deal with it in a healthy way.”
Manning offered some thoughts on dealing with grief in whatever form:
- Take a “Time Out”: When someone asks us, “How are you feeling/doing?” We automatically respond, “Good.” Are you? Stop to reflect on how you are feeling. Am I feeling anxious, angry, sad, worried, inpatient, etc.?” Name it. Feelings are not right or wrong, they just are and you can’t control them, but you can control how you respond to them. Be honest with yourself and others. For those who do share, stop to actively listen to them. No advice. Just let them talk and calmly release that feeling.
- Take care of your body: Eat healthy, get enough sleep and exercise. Exercising releases endorphins that are physically and mentally beneficial. You don’t have to run a marathon; do what you like to do whether it is gardening, biking, Yoga, walking and even housework is exercise. And smile! It’s contagious, and your smile may be the encouragement that a friend, co-worker or patient needs to restore their optimism and hope.
- Take care of your mind: Our mind is powerful. We can choose positive self-talk by re-framing what is going on. Count our blessings rather than counting our woes. Every day is a blessing, and we can decide to have an “Attitude of Gratitude.” What are you thankful for today? There is always something to be thankful for, you just have to look. Start simple for example, “I have a roof over my head, food to eat, the sun is out, etc.” Fill yourself with positive self-talk and pass it on. It does wonders for those around you. It’s OK to be happy, even in a pandemic. Laughter is good medicine. Watch a silly movie instead of the nightly news.
- Take care of your Spirit: Everyone has a spirituality whether that is the name we give it or not. Spirituality is that inner “compass” which guides us and directs us to follow that which gives our lives meaning and purpose. A sense that we are part of something greater than ourselves. This may be expressed by religious beliefs, prayer, rituals, nature, art, music or meditation. St. Augustine said, “Our hearts are restless until they rest in You, O Lord.” Sometimes our spirit feels restless and we don’t know why or how to find peace. We feel a void inside ourselves. It’s your spirit needing to be fed and nourished – go to what brings you joy and meaning.
“Consider a support group. People are social beings. We are not meant to be isolated. We need community and support systems like a place of worship, friends, family, neighbors and support groups."
“When we are grieving, we may just want to be left alone, but don’t push others away and isolate yourself. You may not feel like talking, but that doesn’t mean someone can’t sit quietly with you. Bereavement Support Groups are wonderful because everyone there has walked the journey that you are walking when you are grieving the loss of a loved one.
“It’s not a sign of weakness, but of strength. They understand how you’re feeling, and it helps them to share their story with you. It’s all part of the healing process.”