April 29, 2020

Is this grief I am feeling?

We are several weeks into isolation and the cracks are showing. Parents are telling me that they are not ok and many are concerned about the mental health of their children, both young ones and teenagers.  I think we are in a period of collective mourning with many of us grieving our loss of certainty, of social interaction, of familiar habits and routines.  We want our old lives back and we want it now.

I think it is helpful to understand that grief is a process which will see us going through a number of stages. Unfortunately it is not linear so we can’t tick the box once we have moved through a stage, and there are certainly no timelines to it. This said, I think we can gain a sense of relief if we understand what is happening, explain it to our children and give ourselves permission to fully experience our feelings.

The Kublor-Ross Grief Cycle includes five different stages:- DENIAL (this virus won’t affect us); ANGER (how dare it ruin our lives like this); SADNESS (I am really missing my friends); BARGAINING (if we accept three weeks isolation then it will be fine?), ACCEPTANCE (it’s happening).  Scott Berinato, who worked with Elisabeth Kublor-Ross when she developed this model, has added a sixth stage, MEANING which I like because it builds optimism. What is the meaning in this experience? Perhaps it is the big wake up call we needed to realise how quickly the atmosphere improves when we reduce air traffic. Perhaps it is the realisation that relationships are so much more important than possessions and that it is possible to maintain those relationships despite social distancing. Perhaps it is the opportunity we have to help our children develop those all important soft skills. Finding our meaning and helping our children to find theirs will increase feelings of optimism and build our resilience.

And so I think it is helpful to understand that our children may well be spinning through the grief cycle and feeling all of these big emotions but they might not have the awareness or maturity to process them. They need help from us in the form of an empathic, listening ear and reassurance. See if you can work out where they are and talk to them about it.  Explain how in times of huge change and stress it takes time for us to adapt but we can help ourselves by talking about our experience, focussing on the things we can control, looking for the positives, keeping life in balance, establishing some form of structure to our days, exercising and sleeping well and if all else fails hang on to the certainty that this will pass, and perhaps our new norm will be something to celebrate.

This blog post was written for Role Models by Alicia Drummond. Alicia is a BACP accredited counsellor, parent coach, speaker, author, mother and founder of Teen Tips. Their online training for school staff and parents focuses on supporting young people’s mental health and wellbeing in Secondary School and beyond.