For more than two years, the world has felt the pressures of loss and dealt with the harsh reality that grief brings. While grief looks differently for everyone, it is an emotion that has been fueled with force in recent months. At a time when mental health is being widely discussed, topics surrounding grief Have become a hot button issue as individuals look for ways to cope with sadness and process the events of the last several months.
The coronavirus has claimed more than 800,000 lives in the United States and the numbers continue to increase. In the wake of the virus, individuals have lost jobs, financial security and simple freedoms triggering a domino effect of emotions where grief and sadness take center stage. Moreover, the holidays seem to weigh heavier with empty seats for this year’s festivities.
“The families who has [sic] suffered the loss, begin to remember how significant their role was when he or she was alive and at the moment the family feels the void and how holidays will forever be changed because of the absence,” says therapist Dr. Samone R. Marion, owner and operator of Marion’s Counseling Services.
No matter the calendar month, thoughts and feelings around grief persist. While grief has always been a tough road to navigate, it can be triggered by more than the death of a loved one.
“I like the broader definition of grief which is ‘a reaction to any form of loss.’ The reason why I like to use that definition is because it allows for us to emcompass all types of loss. When you think about grief, you think about the loss of a loved one, but when we think about it, especially around holidays, you may have lost a job, you may have lost a pet or loss of a relationship,” says Helena Kelly, a social worker and CEO of Decisions Counseling and Consulting Services. “When we think about grief in that broader context, we get to fold more things in.”
Masked by feelings of control, irritability, over or under eating and other characteristics, the emotional fallout from grief is a ripple effect that can be felt in several areas of life.
“Grief looks differently for everyone. There are several stages of an individual’s spiral. I find individuals struggle with the emotional turbulence of the initial disbelief of death. ‘Why did this happen?’ Many ask themselves ‘could this have been avoided? Could I have done more for the loved one who died?’ Mentally we try to process the abrupt departure and become angry, Individuals question their spiritual belief system asking why. Seemingly, many struggle back and forth trying to gain an understanding of the departure,” says therapist Dr. Samone R. Marion.
As there are several layers to processing grief, there are also different types of grief and how it presents itself. Traumatic grief, defined as a severe form of separation distress that has resulted from a sudden loss. Not to be confused with the traditional process of grief, traumatic grief can last longer and create aftershocks for the mind and body causing symptoms similar to PTSD. Traumatic grief is chronic and sufferers may become invested in the deceased with details surrounding a loved one’s death as a way to cope.
“We have to talk about traumatic grief because it’s a little different from normal grief and we get caught up in the details and that’s where the trauma comes in,” says Kelly. “We just get caught up in the details of how they transitioned or passed and it’s almost like you get suspended development in your grieving process.”
In the Black community, conversations around grief are not often had. Despite millennials making the push to self-healing and discovery through therapy, it remains a taboo subject. Men are told not to cry and young women are taught that strength is represented in endurance. Distorted ideals around grief in therapy continue to manifest themselves differently between the sexes.
“Women are more expressive, they are more willing to talk about the loss and how important he or she was to them. Women are more willing to reach out to their ministers, mental health professionals and close family support,” says Dr. Marion. “Men are more closed, they are by design fixers and try dealing with the loss on their own. In many cases, men see themselves as strong and must hold the family together and fail to validate their hurt by the loss. Encouraging men to go and talk to someone to express their loss it’s the healthy thing to do.”
Grief is a serious subject and should be handled with care. Those looking to seek counseling after experiencing loss are encouraged to find a mental health professional that best fits their needs.