Op-Ed: Donor Program Offers Tips for Coping With Grief During COVID-19

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These are unprecedented times. People across the country are adjusting to major disruptions in their daily lives as a result of COVID-19. The impact is wide-reaching–resulting in drastic changes to work and school routines, financial and food security and imposed social restrictions–all of which have left many grappling with a loss of normalcy. These enormous transitions are compounded by the anxiety of contracting coronavirus.

Disruptions, uncertainty and changes in our daily routines have an emotional impact on all of us. In order to care for ourselves, it is important to embrace the many different emotions we are feeling around our current reality and give ourselves permission to grieve. Grief is not always associated with the death of someone you love; rather grief is a multi-faceted reaction to a loss. There are many losses beyond death that may elicit a grief reaction, including termination from a job, the end of a relationship and deterioration of health. 

Examples of grief responses:

  • Emotional: anxiety, anger and sadness
  • Physical: change in sleep patterns, muscle tension and headaches 
  • Cognitive: problems concentrating and remembering things 
  • Spiritual: questioning our faith or moving closer to it 

Grief is not a choice. It is a natural response to the kind of losses we have all experienced so much of in the last several weeks.

If you or someone you care about is experiencing grief, below are some tips to help you begin to process and cope:

  • Acknowledge all of the various emotions you are experiencing.

Although challenging, it is important to sit with and embrace these feelings. These uncertain times are filled with many associated losses and grief. Know that your reactions are normal and OK.

  • Delineate what you CAN control from what you CANNOT.

In order to distinguish and visualize the two categories, it may be helpful to make a list. If you find yourself veering into “CANNOT CONTROL” territory, this is normal. Pause, take a deep breath and center on the present moment.

  • Cultivate and welcome kindness into your day.

Give yourself the permission to take up whatever emotional space you need at this time. If you have the capacity, share the gift of compassion with others. Although we are all engaging in social distancing, we can still connect in a meaningful way with the community at large (grocery pick-up/drop-off chains for an elderly neighbor or decorating a sidewalk to bring a smile to pedestrians). Recognize and celebrate the love and benevolence going on around you as we navigate these waters together as a society!

  • Engage in healthy habits.

It is important to commit to a routine to establish a sense of normalcy. Set an alarm, shower and change out of your pajamas. Try your best to eat nutritious food (although, this may be challenging in light of decreased access). Give your body the sleep it requires to stay energized and strong. Get outside! Sun provides us with plenty of Vitamin D and fresh air and movement have many benefits for the mind and body.

  • Be creative with socializing.

We are fortunate to have incredible technology that allows us to see and communicate with those we love. Pick up the phone and call a friend. Schedule a family FaceTime or Zoom happy hour. Post a message or meme on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter. If your access to technology is limited, consider putting pen to paper and mailing a letter or card. Relationships are important and provide an outlet for mutual support and connection!

In these unsettling times, there can be comfort in numbers and the knowledge that our society at large is really all in this together. 

Additional resources can be found on the following websites: 

About the Authors

Jacquelyn Kates is Senior Family Services Counselor for Gift of Life Donor Program. Lara Moretti is Manager of Family Support Services for Gift of Life Donor Program.

Gift of Life Donor Program

Gift of Life Donor Program is a nonprofit, federally-designated organ procurement organization, working with 128 acute care hospitals and 15 transplant centers to serve 11.2 million people in the eastern half of Pennsylvania, southern New Jersey and Delaware. Thanks to its compassionate community, for the past 12 years Gift of Life has coordinated the most life-saving organs for transplant in the U.S. Its annual donation rate ranks among the highest in the world. Since 1974, Gift of Life has coordinated more than 50,000 life-saving organs for transplant and approximately 1.5 million tissue transplants have resulted from the generosity of donors and their families. One organ donor can save the lives of up to eight people, and a tissue donor can improve the lives of more than 75 others. For more information or to register, visit donors1.org.

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