by John. John’s oldest & coolest friend died by suicide in 2010.

Friends, I’m writing to you during a strange time. COVID-19 has forced us into quarantine. This lockdown has no definite end date, so we’ll have to adjust to another new normal. Grief in the time of quarantine is a new experience for us all.

I’ll be direct: our extended separation poses a threat to every safe grief journey. It will also be an unenviable aggravation when we really don’t need it. Hopefully, we can at least lay out the problem today, and get a grasp on what we’re up against. Maybe this can help us start to consider measures to ensure our wellbeing.

The current quarantine is non-negotiable, enforced by safety and in some cases by law. We’ll have to face its challenges. So what are they and how do they affect us? 

Grief, Quarantine and Isolation

Isolation is the core problem of the quarantine, a wrapper and an incubator for all the specific difficulties. Removing human contact takes the legs out from under everything we do. Let’s start at the bottom of the need hierarchy: the basics for life. Some of us, especially in acute phases, will need assistance with daily things: taking the dog out, cleaning, filling prescriptions, driving, etc. These are essential and sometimes urgent (hang in there, dog!). Your support system might have been awesome, which makes losing their assistance worse. You might feel overwhelmed, anxious, maybe even bitter. It’s a huge adjustment to have to give up appreciated and effective help prematurely, and it’s terrible luck to have to go through it.

Mourner’s Bill of Rights

I started thinking of what specific grief needs could be affected by this isolation, and the answer was “everything I can think of”. I had to filter the list to begin to process the details. Just look at what could be undermined from the Mourner’s Bill of Rights:

  • Your unique grief needs can go unmet. You may be a person that craves contact; that’s no longer possible. If you prefer public activities, that’s off the table. You may be deprived of your work and slip into bad mental states without the helpful intrusion of obligation. Unemployment not only removes a possible source of support, but adds urgent money stress.
  • Your right to talk about your grief is harshly restricted. As miraculous as the internet is, body language, the subtle, vivid symphony we play together to understand, is muted.  
  • Your right to make use of ritual can be likewise hollowed out. Clearly, the most ghastly manifestation is if you are working out the funeral, but informal gatherings are also out. The best civilization can do is streaming. Confining a celebration of life to a thirteen inch lcd rectangle is woefully inadequate, and can leave you feeling unfulfilled or guilty.
  • Your right to embrace your spirituality is limited simply by the fact that so many churches have closed. Faith-based groups, where many people draw strength, have been cancelled. You are left with a void when you may really need spiritual support.

Grief and Human Interactions

Losing the fundamental joy of human interaction leaves you vulnerable in other ways. The simple presence of someone who cares is perhaps the first and best support anyone can provide. Having a trusted person as a reality check is a wonderful balm when the intellectual and emotional misfires of grief leave you confused, frightened, or inert. Now, you miss out on opportunities for laughter, an essential part of constructing your new normal. You can’t share time with others who are grieving with you. Without someone around or at least readily available, it becomes much harder for you to “wear out” your questions, anger, guilt, or other feelings.

Being stuck in one place is a poisonous byproduct of isolation. Your unsought hermit status can complicate matters further. You weren’t expecting to have your outdoor and/or social activities suddenly ripped away, and there isn’t a playbook for this. Beyond hobbies, sometimes you just gotta move. If you dose your grief by getting out of the house, this tool is gone. The problem worsens if your home inspires unpleasant memories about the loss of your Person. It’s totally reasonable to discover one day that you absolutely need to throw out their old coffeemaker. But now you can’t replace it; you’re stuck with every functional item.

This enforced solitude is a terrible literal incarnation of the profound, enduring, and sometimes impenetrable loneliness we can feel. We’re beyond the reach of most, and even fewer have the extra mental resources to be helpful. Your loss, however, has nowhere to go, and all the time in the world to squat obtrusively in your mind. We’re spinning our wheels, assailed by doubt, unsure of our own wellness or future, and everything is just — inadequate. 

You are NOT alone!

Friends! We’re in a rough patch here, and we don’t know how long it will last. Some of us have better support systems/situations than others, but we’re all taking hits. But being apart from doesn’t mean being alone. The signal’s just grainy and we have to strain to hear it sometimes.  We’re going to figure out how to make it, together. After all, this isn’t the worst thing we’ve all been through. May we all be emptying the same coffeepot soon.

If you or someone you care about are struggling with suicidal thoughts please get help. 911 | 1-800-273-8255 | text “4hope” to 741741