Navigating Isolation and Grief During a Pandemic

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I’ve heard it said that grief comes in waves. One moment everything is fine, then without warning, a thought, scent, sound, or memory will enter the scene, and tears come flooding down. I’ve lost all of my grandparents, but it’s been two decades since I walked those paths with my beloved grandmas who lived to see their children and grandchildren grow to be adults. They made tremendous impacts on their family, and were loved endlessly.  The funerals provided wonderful memory-making opportunities, and plenty of time to reminisce.

When my dad died unexpectedly at home two weeks before Christmas, mourning as we experienced when my grandmothers died, became very, very different. 

Difficult decisions about scheduling a public funeral became impossible. In every aspect of grieving my dad, we had to keep in mind protecting family members, especially my aging mom, from exposure to COVID-19. We all self-assessed any exposures, wore masks, and scheduled COVID tests to confirm it was safe to gather. We greeted friends outside in freezing cold weather, as we were committed to maintaining social distancing. We limited the funeral to family only, and live-streamed the funeral so others could participate. The hugs that meant so much when we buried my grandmothers, were non-existent, except from our bubble of family members. We chose to keep our children home from school so as to eliminate exposure in preparation for the funeral. We had catered boxed lunches delivered instead of eating family style like we love to do. Decisions about the “business” side of planning a funeral had to be made by the brain, not the heart. Our family simply could not risk exposing our beloved mom, or serving as an event to spread COVID-19. In retrospect, we could have invited local folks to be present at the meaningful military honors that were held graveside immediately following the private service. We had a few folks attend, and we were very grateful to see a few familiar faces that were grieving along side us.

We have a very large immediate family, so we relished the time together. Several of my siblings came from thousands of miles away to be present, and we would not have had such sweet time together during the funeral if we were greeting the beloved friends who would have shown up to support us. We are intentionally planning a meaningful Celebration of Life service at a later date in which we will be able to gather with loved ones in a little safer situation and incidentally not still be reeling from the suddenness of my dads passing. We are focusing on positive opportunities in such a difficult situation.

When you’ve already endured 9+ months of social distancing, your relationships with friends, co-workers, and acquaintances has already changed a bit…it takes much more effort to stay connected, so it can become an overwhelming effort to be the one to reach out to loved ones for support since you don’t incidentally run in to loved ones in the hallways at church, work, or even the grocery store. The grieving process could have felt very isolating and even more difficult if it weren’t for friends and co-workers who texted, called, sent flowers, pizza, restaurant gift cards, family sized meals, buckets of soup, meaningful pieces of jewelry, and sweet physical reminders to memorialize our dad. I’ve often started telling my friends to keep checking in on me, as I don’t think I will be able to recognize what I need for a little while.

It is so difficult to pick up the pieces when life goes on for everyone else, and you notice the hole in daily life. The packages, mail, and phone calls keeps coming in for your beloved family member, and you have to share what happened with total strangers time, and time again while talking with banks, insurance companies, and businesses. It is quite normal for those left behind to need to seek out a little extra support during such loss. There are so many virtual and safe, in-person counselors that can help give support during this time.

It feels so isolating to grieve a loss during the best of times, that it can be overwhelming during these “unprecedented times.” Each day it sinks in a little bit more, however some moments can still feel overwhelming. We just keep putting one foot in front of another and adjusting to our new normal. I know I’m not alone in grief. The whole world is grieving people, hopes, dreams, experiences, and life as we knew it.

I am focusing on the love that was shared by so many, and I wake up with a promise to myself to make the world a little kinder and gentler each day. Kindness won’t change the loss I feel, but it can bring a little light to others who are grieving. 

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Amy is a lifelong Wichita-area resident, with the exception of her college and grad school years. Amy has worked as a pediatric physical therapist for a local non-profit organization during her 20 year career. She married Brett, a youth pastor turned special education teacher and coach, and can be seen supporting Andover Middle School with her two boys, aged 9 & 8, only 18 months apart! They keep her occupied in athletic activities, knee-deep in Lego's & up-to-date on superheroes. When she isn't busy momming, she likes to work out before the sun comes up!