Dear Dr Eve
In June 2020 I lost my husband to Covid-19. We had been married for over 20 years and had a really good marriage. Our sex life was regular and very satisfying. I miss it so much. We raised our kids together and liked being alone. We were never big social people. I write to you as I just can’t seem to get on with my life. I am distracted, snappy with our children and nothing makes me happy. I stay at home alone a lot. Initially, I was placed on medication, but I took myself off as it made me numb. What suggestions do you have for me?
DR EVE ANSWERS:
What a long time of suffering you have endured … im so sorry for your loss.
There are primary losses, such as the loss of a loved one or a job loss. And then there are secondary losses. Secondary losses include loss of relationships, recreation, and social support. Loss of freedom or ability to connect with people in ways that are meaningful to you.
Let’s talk about GRIEF, specifically something called PROLONGED GRIEF.
The first step for you to do is identifying what you are experiencing as a GRIEF. And grief, especially covid-19 grief, is a traumatic event.
This is the context of your grief Kiki.. which is why it is defined as a trauma . You have both primary and secondary loss.
The traumatic symptoms of grief include emotional anger, irritability, sadness, apathy, cognitive preoccupation with thoughts and memories of your loved one, or life loss or difficulty concentrating, even memory loss and your behavior may change in that you increase your adaptive mechanisms, such as alcohol, recreational or prescription drugs, and isolate.
I am sure you have heard of the 5 stages of grief created by psychiatrist Elisabeth Kubler-Ross. Here is a very brief refresher for you. Be aware as you track your own current stage and state of mind, that one cycles through these stages. They are not linear lines.
Once you’ve glanced at these 5 stages, I invite you to consider a different interpretation of GRIEF that I offer you.
Denial helps you minimize the overwhelming pain of loss. You are trying to absorb and understand what happened.
Experiencing extreme emotional discomfort makes you feel vulnerable. And that is uncomfortable. Anger may feel like it allows you an emotional outlet.
You feel so desperate that you are willing to do almost anything to alleviate or minimize the pain. By bargaining, you are doing SOMETHING, which makes you feel some sense of emotional control.
Your brain begins to calm down, you realize the reality of the loss. Sadness, isolation, detachment from others may occur.
When we come to a place of acceptance, it is not that we no longer feel the pain of loss. You are no longer resisting the reality of your situation, and you are not struggling to make it something different.
AN ALTERNATIVE MODEL OF GRIEF
- Stage 1: a separation from life as usual
- Stage 2: in a place of uncertainty. You do not know when this will end. The time between “what was” and “what is” is not yet clear nor processed.
- You are grieving what is lost: income, jobs, people who have died, and died alone with no possibility of you being present for a farewell; a relationship, possibility of a planned pregnancy, a new career overseas, time as you are aging and have lost a year of your life.
- Acceptance that loss is part of the natural process of LIFE.
- Move into self-compassion – be in empathy with your own suffering.
I invite you to tune your attention to TRAUMA & PROLONGED GRIEF.
A July 2020 study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA estimated that each U.S. COVID death leaves, on average, approximately nine close relatives bereaved.
5 to 10 percent of this bereaved group develops this DISORDER OF PROLONGED GRIEF—which is the standard rate under normal circumstances.
People who sufferer from this intense bereavement are frequently unable to keep their job, leave their homes or care for other loved ones. Even those who are able to navigate some of everyday life describe their agonized existence as just waiting to die.
NOWHERE IS WHERE IT GETS INTERESTING: Their continued high level of stress can damage the body, increasing inflammation and risks for associated illnesses such as heart disease.
This long-term psychological and social distress leads to a harmful “weathering” in the body, a well-established state of prolonged biological stress that predisposes people to greater disease risk and earlier health decline.
There’s a lot of trauma associated with a coronavirus loss.
- Whether these deaths occur in a hospital or at home, people are struggling to breathe, and the patient is usually isolated because of infection concerns.
- Add in public health measures that limited gatherings, travel, and close interpersonal contact.
- Grief is complicated by taking away so many of the traditional ways you would grieve
- Other pandemic stresses—from financial problems to health and safety concerns—can make adapting to a loss more difficult because they distract people from processing it
Now I invite you to consider what cannot be lost: make a list for yourself: for example:
- Your underlying nature, your true self with all its gifts and burdens.
- Bonds that you have with others.
- Things that have occurred over time that have brought you delight.
- Music, art, nature, literature, movies, theatre cannot be lost.
Now I invite you to consider:
- What have I gained in this time of grief?
- What can be found?
Kiki, once you understand this , I invite you to begin this healing process:
- Self-care for yourself, which includes journaling, walks in nature, pilates/yoga.
- A safe return to rituals
- Invite community support for yourself and your children
- Most importantly, reach out of your isolation and socially engage.