Grieving during a pandemic

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By Melanie MacDonald, Canadian Red Cross

Pandemic or no pandemic, one of the hardest things to go through in life is significant loss.

Grief is always difficult, but especially if you are alone or cannot be with a friend or family member. Recently, upon learning that a friend had lost her father, I felt a profound sense of helplessness at not being able to console her in person. She’s a senior who lives alone nearby and has no family in the area. Adhering to physical distancing during such a time where hugs are crucial caused me to also feel a sense of loss.

Nothing can replace a hug or going for walks together, but I sought out new ways that would keep us safe and socially connected.

Having recently been through a significant life change myself, I knew I had to tread carefully or risk dealing with burnout. I started with the Psychological First Aid program by the Canadian Red Cross. They have online courses and even a free printable pocket guide.

Taking care of yourself is a critical part of providing psychological first aid to others. I knew I needed to reassess my own self-care plan if I was to help my friend link into hers or another resource if she was not able to.

Melanie MacDonald in a Bell Let's Talk hatThe Psychological First Aid program uses the cycle of Look, Listen, Link and Live.

If there's one thing I've learned and haven't yet mastered, it's that when times get tough you must first put on your own oxygen mask and check in with yourself. There are several signs of stress to look for such as difficulty concentrating, increased use of alcohol or drugs or being withdrawn from others.

It’s important to listen to how you are feeling. Are you tired even though you've had enough sleep? Are you anxious or easily irritated? Do you feel increasingly critical, cynical or disengaged?

Linking to support systems is equally important. You are your own support system! You can access anytime what you need most for yourself, such as listening to music, doing yoga or just deep breathing. Other support systems include relationships, community, and cultural and should be accessed regularly to maintain balance.

Living is where you return to self-care and build resiliency in yourself! Strategies include taking breaks, developing realistic work expectations, maintaining healthy habits, practicing stress management techniques and asking for help if you need it.

Accessing my self-care plan helped me to feel more in control of my emotions, establish healthy boundaries and focus on filling my own well while being supportive to my friend. I set up an old iPad to link her to mental health resources online and connect her to her social network. She can now video call her friends and family. I also linked into my creative side (a natural stress reliever for me) by making cards, baking, and assembling a basket of care products for her and myself to help us both through the days and weeks ahead.  
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