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Navigating sorrow: Pandemic intensifies, disrupts grieving process

Pandemic intensifies, disrupts grieving process

Laurie Grischow, an intervention specialist for Austintown Local Schools, lost her sister in 2019. Two years later, her mother passed.

Her sister was her best friend, and the fact that they married brothers made them even closer, Grischow said. Her sister was only 53 when she died. “That was too young; she had too much to live for,” Grischow said.

It took time to get over being angry with God, she said. Getting through those two significant losses continues to be an ongoing process.

Grischow said she finds comfort in sharing memories of her loved ones with family and friends, as well as visiting the graves of her sister and mother.

A Christian and active member at Western Reserve United Methodist Church in Canfield, Grischow said she finds her pastor’s sermons about the afterlife, and especially the resurrection, comforting. Songs she sings as a member of the choir give her peace.

“My faith gets me through,” she said.

GRIEF DURING COVID

Every person, no matter who they are, where they live or how they live, will experience loss at some time in their life. Numerous health experts rate the death of a significant person in our lives as the No. 1 most stressful experience in life.

The experience of loss is inevitable, but experts in the field say that how we face it will determine our future.

Christopher Engartner, director of Fox Funeral Home in Boardman, said mourning the loss of a spouse, child or parent has been very difficult the past few years because the COVID-19 pandemic has prevented many from participating in the grieving process.

People have been unable to visit loved ones in hospitals or nursing homes and when death occurs, they have been unable to process their grief.

“Funerals have been postponed or held by Zoom. There is no interaction, and the feeling of hopelessness created by the pandemic has exacerbated the problem,” Engartner said. “A funeral is part of the grieving process, and families have been prevented from doing that.”

Unresolved grief appears to be part of the COVID-19 mental health fallout.

One of the barriers to the grieving process is that society has told men they shouldn’t cry or show emotions, so they find it harder to come to a grief setting than do women, said Kim Calhoun, a licensed social worker who has worked 15 years at Hospice of the Valley, where she serves as bereavement facilitator.

“Men grieve; children grieve; everyone grieves,” said Calhoun, who coordinates and provides leadership for grief groups in Mahoning, Trumbull and Columbiana counties.

Another barrier is that for some, death is not a topic that can or should be discussed.

“Sometimes death is the elephant in the room, but no one is exempt from loss,” Calhoun said. “We have all experienced the loss of someone we love.”

SUPPORT

“Death is never easy, and grief is never easy, but there is support out there,” Calhoun said.

Hospice of the Valley offers bereavement services which are free and available to everyone in need, and, as their newsletter states, “are available to help individuals find comfort, support and understanding of your pain. It is a place to receive hope and encouragement and to get energized, to create new friendships and get helpful information and resources.”

Hospice of the Valley offers specialized support groups for widows and widowers, those coping with grief during the holidays and for those who grieve the loss of a pet.

Her groups consist of “mixed grievers” — for example, those who have lost a spouse, friend or parent. She said her goal is to educate the community about the importance of grieving the loss of a loved one, no matter who they are or their age.

Calhoun has organized grief groups for schools that have experienced the loss of a student or staff member. She also participates in a variety of speaking engagements about grief work that she likes to call “the nuts and bolts of grief and loss.”

Through her work in leading grief groups Calhoun believes it is important to recognize that everyone grieves differently.

One important part of the grief groups is to validate the feelings of those who participate, no matter what those feelings are. The groups are a place where folks can share their experiences of loss and pain which also creates a common bond between those who participate. Calhoun says that “grief affects every aspect of your life.”

MOURNING

Grief is the natural response to death or loss. According to Webmd.com, “The grieving process is an opportunity to appropriately mourn a loss and then heal. The process is helped when you acknowledge grief, find support and allow time for grief to work.”

Joanne Cacciatore, Ph.D., a grief and trauma counselor at Arizona State University, said grief is “a word that’s an umbrella for a lot of different emotions that we feel in response to the death of a loved one.”

She distinguishes between primary losses — the death of a spouse, child, or parent — and secondary losses — loss of a job, loss of routine, or loss of social life.

Dr. Bill Webster, who has a podcast at Griefjourney.com, said, “Losing someone you cared about can be one of the most difficult experiences of life. When someone who was an important part of your life dies, you are changed. Any major loss, as a result of death, divorce or disaster, changes us in a personal way.”

The most important thing we can do when faced with a significant loss is to be patient with ourselves and to give ourselves permission to grieve, Webster said. Grieving “doesn’t mean we’re weak — it means we cared,” he said.

Getting help

For more information about grief groups offered by Hospice of the Valley, contact Kim Calhoun at 330-549-5901. Area funeral homes also offer grief support services or contact information for support groups.

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