Cedars-Sinai Blog

Coping with Loss and Grief During COVID-19

A young woman connects with family over the internet during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted our lives in myriad ways. During this time, you may be experiencing a range of emotions, such as feeling anxious, sad, depressed, angry or lonely.

Some of these feelings may be signs of grief, says Reverend Pam Lazor, chaplain in the Spiritual Care Department at Cedars-Sinai.

"We can't go through our lives without experiencing some loss. We need to give ourselves time and space to mourn."

"Every time we have loss, we grieve," Pam says. "We often don't think of it that way, as grief tends to be more associated with death, dying, mourning or bereavement."

Identifying grief

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), many people are experiencing grief during the pandemic.

Common reactions to grief include shock, disbelief, denial, anxiety, anger, sadness and loss of sleep or appetite.

Identifying grief is often the first step.

"Sometimes, people aren't aware that grief is what they're experiencing," Pam says. "Giving grief a name can be a relief and help put what they're feeling into context."

Grief and loss during COVID-19

New research on loss and grief amid the COVID-19 pandemic makes a distinction between primary losses and secondary losses.

Primary losses are typically tied to major life events, such as the death of a loved one or a job loss.

Public health measures to slow or stop the spread of COVID-19 have led to many different types of secondary losses, such as the loss of relationships, recreation and social support.

"Right now, many may be grieving their loss of freedom or their ability to connect with people in the ways that are meaningful to them," Pam says.

Grief can be unexpected and unpredictable

Pam says in her time as a chaplain at Cedars-Sinai, one thing she's learned is that everyone experiences grief differently.

"There's nothing predictable about grief," Pam says. "There's really no way to tell someone, 'This is what will happen, or this is how you should respond when it does.' Even for those who've been through grief in the past, each grief is unique."

Embracing the grieving process

If you are experiencing grief, it's important not to avoid it or suppress your feelings, Pam says.

"We live in a culture of needing to look as if we've got it all together," Pam says. "Grief is the antithesis of that, and we need to embrace the grieving process."

Loss is an intrinsic part of life, Pam says. 

"We can't go through our lives without experiencing some loss," Pam says. "We need to give ourselves time and space to mourn."

How to connect virtually while grieving

For those who have lost a loved one during the pandemic, it may be harder to grieve, Pam says.

"Some people feel like they've been deprived of the ability to really grieve," Pam says. "You might feel like you're in a state of limbo, as though the loss didn't really happen."

Although we may not be able to grieve in ways that we are used to, it can be beneficial to figure out a way to connect with others during this time.

"Some people who have had a virtual funeral or memorial service have been actually surprised at how wonderful the experience was and felt a great sense of connection," Pam says.

"In some instances, this made the experience even more meaningful."

Finding meaning after a loss

Finding meaning after a loss can be an important part of grieving. 

For Pam, this is where conversations about faith come in.

"Having faith can help us understand our loss and find a sense of meaning and hope after the loss," Pam says. "Faith might not be religious faith. It could be faith in our own resilience or our connection to our community.

"However we view it, having faith can have a very positive effect following grief and loss."

Seeing loss as a universal experience

As a chaplain, Pam tends to see grief and loss as an invitation to deepen our faith. 

When counseling someone, she often listens for the thread of loss in the story that they are telling.

"Everyone in the hospital has lost something—there's loss every step of the way," Pam says. 

"It's important to acknowledge that, in this difficult time, there are layers of loss going on around us. We need to be patient with ourselves and patient with others."