Click here for COVID-19 Resources

Grieving the Losses: How to Celebrate Events During a Time of Social Distancing

Additional Contributor: Daniel Crawford (UT Undergraduate Student)

How are you feeling today? This is a common question that people ask, especially now during the COVID-19 pandemic. Honestly, sometimes it’s hard to come up with an answer because we are feeling so many different emotions that we don’t know how to put it into words. Many of our lives look different now. We are at home all of the time including working from home, children are doing schoolwork from home, and families are sharing the same physical space for days on end. We all look forward to the day when social distancing will end and we can celebrate the reunification of our social lives without fear of catching or transmitting this virus.

Many of us are experiencing feelings of sadness and worry right now as well as phases of grief. Grief is a natural and useful process that allows individuals to turn inward, recalibrate, and adapt to the new situation at hand [1]. Contrary to what some believe, grief doesn’t only occur when a loved one dies, but it also occurs when we experience any kind of loss. Many people in our country right now are grieving the loss of daily routines, the loss of social lives, the loss of jobs, and the loss of attending special events like concerts, weddings, graduations, and planned vacations. COVID-19 has brought our fast-paced lives to a screeching halt and left us with the monumental task to regain normality.

One of the pioneer researchers on the topic of grief is Elizabeth Kübler-Ross, a Swiss physician who developed a five-stage model of grief [2]. This model is a tool to help understand how we process our grief. According to Kübler-Ross these stages are not linear, and people don’t have to go through every stage in order to complete the grieving process [2]. The five stages of grief are:

  1. Denial – you deny that something is happening.
    Example: “The coronavirus is not more dangerous than the flu.”
  2. Anger – you blame others for what happened and you feel angry that this is happening to you.
    Example: “Being asked to stay home and social distance is an inconvenience and an invasion on my rights. I can leave my home if I want to.”  
  3. Bargaining – you say or do something in hopes that it will change your circumstance.
    Example: “If my kids could just go back to school, I won’t complain anymore about having to get up early to get them on the bus.”
  4. Depression – you withdraw from your normal life because you are overwhelmed by everything.
    Example: “I’m being forced to stay in my house so I might as well stay in bed all day and avoid reaching out to others.”
  5. Acceptance – you come to terms with the new reality.
    Example: “COVID-19 is an unprecedented circumstance, and I must do what I can to keep myself and others safe including washing my hands, practicing social distancing, and staying at home.”

During the process of grieving these losses we can also begin thinking about ways to still celebrate some of the events that have been canceled. A sign of resilience in times of grief is a natural fluctuation between sadness and mourning to acceptance and, potentially, happiness [1]. Planning celebrations during this time might facilitate moments of comfort and joy. The following suggestions might aid in your plans to celebrate events such as birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, and even funerals during this time of social isolation [3].

  • Birthdays: for younger children’s’ birthdays, make a fun and exciting craft with them. For older teens and adults, have an indoor or backyard scavenger hunt where the clues have a theme or represent your most memorable family vacation.
  • Anniversaries: couples can write each other love notes and either share them or hide them throughout their house so that each person can stumble upon a sweet note each day.
  • Graduations: when the diploma comes in the mail throw a party and invite extended family and friends via FaceTime or Skype to share in the celebration.
  • Funerals: create a Facebook page where people can share their condolences and a brief memory of the person who has passed. Mourners can make a meal and leave it on the doorstep of the grieving family’s home.

There are many ways still to celebrate canceled events while maintaining social distancing. It takes more thought, creativity, and perhaps energy to celebrate events this way, but hopefully, these ideas will help.

References:

1. Weir, K. (2020, April 1). Grief and COVID-19: Mourning our bygone lives. American Psychological Association.

2. Kubler-Ross, E. (1969). On Death and Dying. Scribner Publishers.

3. Beerman, A. (2020, March 26). Cancelled Birthday Party? No Graduation? Tips on Celebrating Missed Milestones during COVID-19.The University of Vermont Health Network.