The Covid-19 pandemic has triggered grief in response to on-going separation from friends and family across the globe. We may have been unable to share more recent struggles, celebrations, and changes with them, and uncertainty remains when we are able to reconnect physically. This may be felt particularly strongly during the festive seasons where, for some of us, health measures have prevented reunions with loved ones for almost two years. Many of us may feel disconnected, defeated and overwhelmed.
How can we navigate Covid-19 separation grief through another holiday season?
The festive period is a time of connection that we commonly spend with those closest to us. When we are unable to come together, we may experience isolation and disconnection which painfully contrasts the general joy and merriness of the holidays. Staying connected with loved ones overseas on online platforms can feel frustrating and insufficient. Importantly, it highlights distance and absence. Nonetheless, staying connected is a key antidote to our isolation.
It can be beneficial to find creative ways of connecting with our friends and family. This can include making an advent calendar for far-away family, writing letters and cards, and arranging online Christmas gatherings. The more time we spend on these activities, the more connection we will feel as we think about the people close to us and form a togetherness apart.
Connecting with our community in the here-and-now is equally crucial for the festive period. Sharing our sadness, anxieties, but also joys with other people who are going through similar circumstances can help to bond us and form the support we need to get through these uncertain times. We can enrich our lives through this opportunity to cultivate deeper friendships for which we previously did not have time or energy.
Covid-19 restrictions can make us feel like we do not have control over how we can spend our holidays. This can trigger anxiety and helplessness. It is important to identify what we can control within the limitations.
We can choose to plan for our festive days, including gatherings, activities, self-care, and online sessions with our loved ones overseas. It can help to ensure there is a mix of energetic and reflective periods. This gives us something fun to look forward to while also allowing for time to sit with our feelings when they arise.
Allowing our grief in response to the separation from friends and family for the holidays is crucial. Grief can express itself in our thoughts (e.g. negative thought patterns), our feelings (e.g. anger, sadness, guilt), our behaviours (e.g. sleeplessness, over-eating), our bodies (e.g. headaches, nausea), and our social interactions (e.g. withdrawal, conflict). We can choose to plan for how we acknowledge, validate, and manage our grief. Self-compassion is key to this process. Taking control through planning can make us feel less like our lives are on hold while we wait for Covid-19 restrictions to change.
To live is to suffer, to survive is to find some meaning in the suffering (Friedrich Nietzsche).
Separation from our loved ones during a festive time is painful. Creating meaning from our pain can help us to process it and give sense to our experience. This can be done in many different ways. Some people may choose to use their experience to support others who are going through something similar or use their time to volunteer for charitable causes. Others may create artwork in the form of writing, painting, sculpting or dancing, which can evoke emotion and healing in themselves and others. Creating meaning from our painful experiences can turn them into growth.
With current Covid-19 travel restrictions in place, we may find ourselves going through another holiday period separated from our loved ones. Connecting both online and in person, planning for fun gatherings and soothing self-care, and creating meaning from our grief are some of the ways we can help ourselves get through this festive time in a healthy way.
If you have been struggling with grief this festive season, and wish to speak to a grief and trauma specialist, please get in touch and book your appointment with Dr. Esslin Terrighena here.