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‘I’m a funeral director and can see that ‘collective grief’ is rife, and very real, right now’

As a funeral director, Yasemin Trollope knows the symptoms of grief all too well. She shares why we all might be unconsciously experiencing ‘collective grief’ thanks to the COVID-19 crisis, and how we can learn to cope. 

I want you to take a moment to stop, breathe, and reflect on how your life has changed over the past few months and weeks. It’s intense, right? You’re probably feeling a tightness in your chest, a sickness in your belly, fearful, overwhelmed, anxious.

Or maybe you’re not. Maybe you’re choosing to numb out and spend more time than ever engrossed in Instagram, or drinking too much alcohol or trying to fill your days with something, anything, just to distract you.

Sound familiar? Yep, me too, because not only am I guilty of all these things, but I also witness them everyday in my work as the owner and head funeral guide at Rite of Passage Funerals.

This, friends, is grief.

COVID-19 has upended our lives. We’ve gone from watching the story unfold in China and thinking ‘poor them’ to having to deal with it here at home. Literally. In. Our. Homes. Everyday. And while we understand the importance of the strict measures we’re undertaking, that doesn’t always make it easy.

On a purely human level we’re left wondering what the f**k has happened to our freedom, our livelihood, our community, our connection. We’re desperately trying to keep afloat and navigate this mess, while also trying to find our ‘new normal’. When you think about it, we’ve all lost a great deal.

According to psychologist and founder of The Women’s Psychology Clinic Dr Libby Quinn, “grief is…loss. Loss takes many forms. Right now we are in a very unique time where there is both individual and collective loss that we’re grappling with,” she says.

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So how does grief show up?

“We typically identify grief as manifesting in the form of sadness and crying. However, grief can appear as anger, irritability, bodily stress, sleeplessness, loneliness and anxiety,” explains Dr Libby.

When I scour my Insta feed (remember that point about being engrossed in social media? Yep, that’s me) or talk to my friends and family on FaceTime, or even just take a moment to check in with my own thoughts and feelings, all these issues arise. Personally, I’m oscillating between sadness and anger, anxiety and stress, joy and gratitude and complete surrender. Let’s just say my hubby is loving self-isolating with the rollercoaster that is me right now.

I share this because I know I’m not alone and, if it’s ringing true for you, there is a way out and through this to a place of peace and love. I quizzed Dr Libby about her top tools for navigating our collective grief.

Here are her (tried and tested by me!) tips…

Notice and label emotions

“Research tells us that when we can label an emotion we can help to lower its intensity and engage our prefrontal cortex, which lends itself to clearer thinking and a clearer ability to look after ourselves,” explains Dr Libby.

One of the biggest problems right now is that we haven’t labelled our collective shock and sadness as grief; doing so is imperative. From there we can start to identify what’s really going on, and attach meaning and reason to our feelings. Helpful.

Offer validation

This pertains to “the ability to have an internal conversation with ourselves and essentially say ‘this feeling is ok, it belongs here, it makes sense,” says Dr Libby.

This means being okay in the discomfort of our feelings. Sitting and leaning into them rather than running or hiding or distracting yourself from them. As a long-time meditator and through my own work around death, I’m really comfortable sitting in the messiness of grief and giving it space. It really does work, trust me.

Create a reasonable ‘window of tolerance’

“If we’re feeling either too hyper (very anxious) or hypo (very depressed) aroused to the point of overwhelm, we need to help bring ourselves back to a reasonable ‘window of tolerance’ so that we can start to feel our emotions and process them,” explains Dr Libby.

It’s time to download Insight Timer and finally start that meditation practice, or in my case, ramp it back up. I’ve started meditating again first thing in the morning and that 20-30 minutes of ‘me’ time – before work and home-schooling and all the things – is saving my sanity. Other methods include exercising or breath work.

Offer self-compassion

According to Dr Libby,this is the ability to generate an internal dialogue that is supportive and kind. To talk to yourself the same way you would a friend. From here, we can try to come up with what might help to soothe this emotion. Ask yourself, ‘are there any daily habits that might support me and continue to soothe me when these big emotions arise again’?”

For me, that includes a constellation of things that bring joy into my #isolife such as movement, meditation, nature walks, listening to music and podcasts and, perhaps the one that brings the most LOL’s to my family, ecstatic dance around the house. Hey, maybe this self-isolation thing isn’t so bad after all.

Yasemin Trollope is the founder and head funeral guide at Rite of Passage Funerals, a progressive funeral home dedicated to creating unforgettable funerals and end-of-life events. You can follow her on Instagram here and here, as well as on Facebook.