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Published on May 26, 2020

	closeup of friends holding hands in comfort

Grief is All Around – How to Help Yourself and Others

Among our many emotions, grief is not one that anyone would say they experience with much comfort. It’s an overly familiar feeling for us in an era of pandemic, a new normal and constant change.

Too often, grief hurts so much we aim to do anything we can to avoid feeling it fully. We might work out, walk, use alcohol or drugs or pour ourselves into our careers in order to avoid “feeling” it fully.

“As a society, we don’t know how to deal with grief in the air right now because these are unprecedented times,” said Mark VandeBraak, PhD, a Thanatologist at Avera Behavioral Health Services. “One model of grief I use in my work is based on the idea of robbery, as loss often makes us feel as if something were taken from us. It’s something quite common in the news and the times in which we live.”

COVID-19 pandemic or not, human beings are shocked when loss occurs, especially in trauma. We had plans to say things (to those who passed) or to do things (before we could not) and in going forward, it can be hard to figure out one simple idea: How?

“We have to take time to feel what we feel,” VandeBraak said. “That terrifies a lot of people who strive to think, act and avoid that reality. We all feel the sense of robbery – of something being taken from us. It could be a loved one who died of any cause. It could instead be the plans we had for this spring and summer. We’re inundated with losses.”

To go forward, we’ll all have to feel what we feel, even if it’s not pleasant. In doing so, we’ll have to be ready to not just “be there” but to be ready. Be ready to shower those we know and love with our simple attention. You don’t have to be a counselor to help.

“So many all-together new experiences we face come back to a concise method that can help and that is just listen. Just let that person share their feelings – just listen,” said VandeBraak. “All over, people are really just looking for someone to turn to – so you can do great work simply by telling someone please, call me.”

With so many unknowable aspects of the near future, finding validation in the anger, sadness and fear that come with this time – or any time of loss – is critical. Being the person who listens when someone seeks that validity in the way they feel is powerful.

“We may be physically distancing from loved ones or coworkers, but we have to focus on the fact that we are really not alone,” he said. “Offer to help others, and perhaps more importantly, seek out and find those who can help you. They’re out there.”

Grief isn’t something we “master” and it’s not something we “get over.” Instead, the reality is that we do not like sorrow. We avoid it. But we can learn from it and as we do, we can help others get there, too.

“No matter if we’re sad about losing a loved one to cancer or heart attack or we’re sad about the reality of this pandemic – we all experience it,” said VandeBraak. “And we can help each other not so much by having magical words – all we have to say is I’m here for you.”

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