Grief Series Part 5: Moving Forward into Post-Pandemic Life: Grief and Relief

By Cindy Roe

 NY Project Hope is a crisis counseling program that provides support and resources to help people cope with the challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic.  

Given the pervasiveness of the Covid pandemic, people everywhere have experienced loss- and for many, multiple losses- in a wide variety of new and unexpected ways over the past year.  And while the price of any loss can include feeling distraught, overwhelmed, angry, or any other emotions that humans naturally feel and express during the grieving process, our ability to heal emotionally and move forward in our lives afterward is equally normal.  However, an important first step in order for us to get there is having a better understanding of not only our own grief relating to all that we’ve lost, but the grieving process as well.  In this last installation of our 5-part series on pandemic-related grief and loss, we’ll be discussing the mix of emotions people may be experiencing as they transition into post-pandemic life.

When we face big changes, we often move through waves of emotions, so it’s important to let ourselves experience both sides of the emotional coin; the feeling of relief that life is returning to normal and the grief associated with what we’ve lost.                      -Dr. Ryan Van Wyk, Psychologist

“We recall the last year heavy with loss. For the confidence that has been stripped away. For the shock of emptiness and anxiety and unimagined fears. For the flickers of guilt and kindled regret of all that was left undone. For the strangeness of struggling to understand and struggling to breathe. For the overwhelmed-ness of households that are not okay. For the tolling bells and enumerated candles that barely define the countless heartbreak. One year of together, apart. May we learn, may we love, may we carry on.”

-Prayer from the Ecumenical Catholic Community

A Sense of Relief with a Side of Fear

woman in mask at open doorThe multitude of pandemic-related changes that have been happening lately – with nearly 40 per cent of Americans being fully vaccinated, schoolchildren returning to in-person learning, the reopening of restaurants, movie theaters, gyms, and sports arenas at near-full capacity, and the lifting of mask mandates in many states – have brought about a huge sense of relief.   For many of us, we relish the return to normalcy in our lives that these changes bring, as we hope that the worst of this disaster seems to be over.  However, this is not to say that fears about what the future holds aren’t on people’s radar.  Ambivalence, or having conflicting feelings about a situation, are completely normal in the face of change.

And we are certainly on the cusp of change-again-as businesses reopen and people are eager to once again mingle with friends and family.  What fears though do people have about their return to normalcy?  Exposure to the virus for one; while the vaccines carry an efficacy rate of 70 to 90 per cent based on which shot a person got, the possibility of contracting the virus can still be concerning enough for some people that they’re hesitant to go without a mask or be in crowded places.  Particularly now, as the covid restrictions we’ve become accustomed to have diminished just in time to allow pool parties, street fairs, ball games and concerts to resume, concerns over their personal safety trump their desire to be at crowded events, leaving some people with heightened anxiety or feelings of anger, frustration, or loneliness.

Feeling afraid of what the future holds is also a normal aspect of grief.  Predictability plays a key role here, because we as humans have a natural tendency to assume that life progresses in a specific, preordained fashion; and when life is predictable, we feel safe and secure.  However, when we experience a significant loss, such as the death of a loved one or the loss of a job, it negates the beliefs we held about the way things are supposed to be.  The result?  A double whammy in the grief department, with feelings of vulnerability kicking in from our lost sense of emotional security, coupled with the emotional pain from the loss itself.

Coping Tips: Navigating Grief and Relief

The tips that follow are suggestions of some things that can be helpful for those working through grief.  Key to remember is the fact that we’re all individuals who experience grief differently, so feel free to adapt any of the following to fit your specific needs or circumstances.

Allow yourself to feel and express all of the emotions that come up.  Remember, because we are all individuals, the importance of any loss and the way each person reacts to it is unique to them, so there is no “one size fits all” method for grieving or a prescribed way a person should feel.  While feeling sadness and despair, overwhelmed, in shock, angry, and fearful are all common grief reactions, other emotions, such as guilt, may surface as well.  Giving yourself permission to feel whatever emotions come up and expressing them by talking to supportive friends, family members, or mental health professionals, or through journaling, artwork, or other creative outlets, are all helpful tools for working through our feelings.

Be mindful too that for children and teens, grief is often expressed through their behavior.  For young children, whose limited vocabulary and lack of ability to comprehend complex abstract concepts like emotions make it more difficult for them to be able to identify and label their emotions, they are much more likely to express what they’re feeling through their play or other behaviors, such as nightmares, fearfulness of sleeping alone, clinginess, or engaging in other behaviors that they’d previously outgrown.  For older children and teens, their emerging desire for independence and fitting in with their peers can motivate them to shy away from sharing their feelings with family and friends alike.  Things to watch for in this age group include increased emotional reactivity, withdrawing from friends or preferred activities, aggression, difficulty concentrating, changes in sleep or eating habits, or a drop in grades.  Regardless of their age, supporting them means encouraging them to express their feelings, listening attentively without judgment, providing factual information in age-appropriate terms, and modeling best practices for coping with stress.         

Be mindful that the intensity of grief fades over time.  In the first few days immediately following a significant loss, the emotional reactions a person experiences can be pretty intense.  Like a throbbing toothache, the initial pain of grief can be thought of as pulsating, since the thoughts of the bereft tend to switch back and forth between focusing on the loss itself and those relating to moving forward with life.  This allows the bereft to sit with the feelings associated with the loss in smaller, more manageable increments.  And, just as toothache pain subsides after taking pain medication and seeing a dentist for treatment, the intensity of the grief also tends to soften with time as well.  So, while memories of the loss and the associated emotions will resurface at other key points in the future, the intensity of those emotions will likely lessen over time.

stone with In MemoriamFind ways to remember your losses and celebrate your joys. During the pandemic, stories about the creative ways people found around obstacles and how they were able to stay positive were all over the media.  Drive by celebrations, like the vehicle parades with firetrucks, ambulances, and police cars became popular ways to say thank you to essential workers, send birthday wishes to children and the elderly, and celebrate holidays, graduations, and other events.  Musicians, dancers, actors, and comedians also took to their neighborhood streets, front porches, and rooftops to share their talents with others in their communities.  Others memorialized their lost loved ones by creating and sharing virtual memory scrapbooks with friends and family members, while entire communities collaborated on large-scale memorials which were created as a way to honor those who died.  Again, it’s important to acknowledge both the pain of our losses and the emotions relating to the regaining of a sense of normalcy in our lives, so the key here is to do so in whatever ways work for you.

Take It Slow and Take Care of Yourself.  Be gentle with yourself and do regular self-check-ins to monitor how you’re feeling throughout your day-this alone can help you tune in to the ebb and flow of your emotions.  Also be mindful of the importance of getting adequate rest, nutrition, and exercise, which are all vital to our mental and physical health.  Other self-care tips, such as treating yourself to a massage or spa treatment, spending time in nature, joining a yoga class, or engaging in a hobby that you enjoy are all effective methods for coping with grief-induced stress.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Remember, it’s never wrong to consult with your doctor or a mental health professional if you’re ever unsure about the reactions you or your child are having to what’s been happening during these troubling times.

Want to Learn More About How We Can Help? The Crisis Counselors for NY Project Hope at Independent Living are always available to help, since sometimes it can be helpful to talk to someone you don’t know. Want to know more about how we can help?  Give us a call at 845-762-2275-talking to us is always free, voluntary, and confidential.

Visit Independent Living Inc on Facebook, Instagram, or on the web at for more blogs, tips and videos on stress management techniques and coping strategies. #iliprojecthope.

Cindy Roe is a crisis counselor from Independent Living, Inc. working on with the NY Project Hope program.