In my 42 years as a Registered Nurse, I have never seen a disease devastate our world like the coronavirus. All of my advocacy patients think they are going to die. I have been forced to turn the phone off at night to get eight hours’ sleep. Playing back, each morning, each voice message there is one common denominator – each patient has been catapulted into a “grief cycle” tsunami.
Change is scary, especially when it is happening on a daily basis. Americans are being forced to change and temporarily losing some of their freedoms: restaurant dining, coffee shop visits, social gatherings, sporting events, cocktails at their local bar. With closures of businesses and loss of jobs and income, people are unable to pay rent, utilities, or buy groceries. Daily living, survival, and minimizing spread of the coronavirus fills our minds. Each challenge is a “loss” and a loud knock on grief’s front door.
It is important people understand terms most commonly associated with the Coronavirus as well as phases of a grief cycle. New terms – self-isolation, self-quarantine, social distancing – what does it all mean? And why is it important?
People who have been exposed to the new coronavirus and who are at risk for coming down with COVID-19 might practice self-quarantine that lasts 14 days. Two weeks provides enough time for them to know whether or not they will become ill and be contagious to other people.
Self-quarantine helps “flatten the curve.” Flattening the curve refers to using protective practices to slow the rate of COVID-19 infection so hospitals have room, supplies and doctors for all of the patients who need care. Too many people becoming severely ill with COVID-19 at roughly the same time could result in a shortage of hospital beds, equipment or doctors.
Self-quarantine or self-isolation means staying home and not leaving to go anywhere, unless you need medical care. Self-quarantine involves:
• Using standard hygiene and washing hands frequently
• Not sharing things like towels and utensils
• Staying at home
• Not having visitors
• Staying at least 6 feet away from other people in your household
Social distancing is simply putting a distance between you and other people – in this case, six feet. It also means minimizing contact with other people. Avoid public transportation whenever possible, limit non-essential travel, work from home and skip social gatherings. Definitely do not go to crowded bars, casinos and sporting arenas. School and university classes should be attended remotely.
The Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommends against gatherings of more than 10 people. For Louisianans this means not attending church and consideration of the risk associated with attending a funeral service.
In my clinical experience, a grief cycle consists of seven phases: fear, denial, anger, depression, bargaining, acceptance, and forgiveness. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’ groundbreaking 1969 book, On Death and Dying, quickly established the five stages of grief: denial, anger, depression, bargaining, and acceptance. These 5 phases in a grief cycle may be experienced in no certain order and are often experienced more than once. And I have found that “fear” always precedes these five stages, and “forgiveness” always follows.
Increased isolation may create longer grief cycles. Grief and loss are experienced by both young and old, rich and poor, healthy and immunocompromised.
Panic and anxiety are two emotions experienced with the coronavirus pandemic. Both are underlying characteristics in a grief cycle. People are angry that grocery store shelves are empty. Inability to pay bills due to loss of income creates depression. Self-isolation or self-quarantine may cause depression or denial of social responsibility to slow the spread of the virus. You bargain with God as to why this is happening. Acceptance is remaining calm and not panicking. Forgiveness is where you want to be:
• YOU did not create the coronavirus
• YOU are doing your part to slow the spread of the virus (social distancing, self-quarantine or self-isolation)
• YOU wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the toilet or when hands are visibly dirty.
• YOU avoid touching the eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands.
• YOU cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing (which then be disposed of immediately), or with a sleeve if a tissue is unavailable.
• YOU check on your neighbors, especially the elderly, to ensure their well-being.
There is not one best or right way to overcome grief. Each person grieves and heals differently and in his or her own time. If you’re grieving, there’s no sense comparing yourself to someone else – that will only make the grieving worse.
It all boils down to finding that Power Within – and each of us has it, whether or not we realize it. For some of us, it’s just more hidden than in others. Some people are hoarders of negative emotions, and when they don’t work at cleaning out their “psychological attic,” the Power Within becomes buried further and further down.
These exercises help clear out the clutter so that you can open up that magical trunk containing the Power Within and let it shine — as it was meant to.
Although the term “hypnosis” carries all sorts of connotations that makes it sound as if only the illustrious or Oz-bound can perform the practice, I’m here to tell you that it’s actually quite easy, as long as you give it some time. Honest to goodness. All you need is your proverbial rocking chair and a few quiet moments to yourself.
1. Sit in your front-porch rocking chair and become calm.
2. Once your body has become still, close your eyes and take a couple of deep breaths. Your body should calm even further.
3. Allow the feeling of grief you’ve been carrying around with you to become the focus of your thoughts. Nothing else exists. Imagine the grief as a large orange ball floating on the inside of your eyelids.
4. Imagine that time is running backwards. The orange ball, which represents the pain you’ve been carrying with you, begins to shrink until it’s but a speck in the darkness of your consciousness – an indication of how you’ve gone back to a time before your current pain existed. Time continues to go backward until the origin of the orange ball is revealed. Now, what is the first thing that pops into your mind? Was it an event or person? Where did the orange ball come from?
When I perform this exercise with my clients, I’m always amazed at what comes out of their mouths – because the answer comes so quickly. It was lying right there all along and just had to have the clutter cleared away to be revealed.
So far, I’ve heard everything from ordinary stories of third-grade bullies to horrid tales of sexual abuse to fear of dying from the coronavirus. Previous life traumas and wounds deepened with the coronavirus pandemic.
Gail Trauco, R.N. BSN-OCN is a registered oncology nurse, pharmaceutical trials expert, and licensed grief mediator based outside Atlanta. You can reach Gail directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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