Resilience: When grief surprises you

A counsellor offers insight into processing pandemic losses

Resilience: When grief surprises you

As Charles stood listening to melodic strains of the violin and harp this summer, he felt an unexpected twinge of sadness.

The outdoor concert was the first performance he had attended in over a year, and the joy of the occasion mixed with the realization of all that had been lost during lockdowns. “I had forgotten how much I missed just being around people,” says Charles, a counsellor with Strathcona County’s Family and Community Services Department.

As we return to our pre-pandemic activities and routines, it may come with a painful reminder of what we lost over the past 16 months, he explains. In his role, Charles supports County residents to work through their concerns and challenges. Now, he offers tips on walking through pandemic losses, and the unexpected grief that may arise.

Acknowledge the loss

Grief is the way we react to loss, according to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health. Your grief reactions may take you by surprise in this season, when circumstances are seemingly going “back to normal.”

“You might think, ‘I should be happy.’ Sometimes that puts us into internal conflict, asking ‘Why am I not just accepting this’?” says Charles.

When these thoughts come up, Charles recommends acknowledging your feelings and trying not to judge yourself. “Don’t try to control the emotions. Because if you try to control them, they have a way of fighting back. Instead, try to name the emotion and just be with it.”

Identify what you can control

It can be frustrating to be left grieving a missed graduation or lost time with loved ones, knowing you can’t get those moments back. In these situations, Charles suggests looking for what is within your control now.

“With any difficult emotion, there’s a need that isn’t being met,” he explains. “Recognizing that need can be helpful, because sometimes you can do something about it.”

While you can’t rewind time, you may be able to identify that you need to celebrate a missed milestone and be able to plan an event now. While it won’t replace the loss, it does empower you to take action and focus on the present.

Give yourself grace

In some cases, grieving may interrupt your ability to engage fully in your day-to-day life. "In these moments, I like to remind people that they're probably a very capable individual,” says Charles. “People can, at times, be really hard on themselves. When they’re not functioning at their full capacity, they could benefit from being kinder to themselves.”

Charles recommends taking the time for self-care or to reach out to others who can help you through the grief. In some cases, that could be a counsellor or another mental health professional who can offer a new perspective and tools to help you move forward.

Connect with compassion

As we gather again, grief may show up for many of us. If you have taken the time to self-reflect and be kind to yourself, you are more likely to bring compassion to others working through their own complicated feelings, says Charles.

“For some people the pandemic was harder, for others it was easier. But we experienced this event together. It’s about connection, understanding and common humanity.”

This story is part of our Be Real. Be Really Kind. campaign to encourage empathy as we enter community recovery from COVID-19. If you’re struggling with your mental health, finances or just feel overwhelmed, call our Family and Community Services line at 780-464-4044.