By Jen Hammonds, Middle School Counselor, American School of Doha & Task Force Member
We are all learning so much about resilience during this time of COVID-19. We are being asked to “bounce back” from unexpected challenges daily, weekly, monthly. For many of us, not knowing if the end is in sight has made it all that more difficult to adapt to a “new normal”. We are being challenged in new and unexpected ways to adapt, to be flexible and to live and learn virtually like never before. It is demanding all of us to dig deep and to wrestle with grief & loss as a collective, as well as individuals.
This article is an attempt to make some sense of this experience and to provide some helpful suggestions and resources for how we might continue to “thrive” not just “survive” during this challenging time. We need to grieve, to transition, to celebrate, to serve, and to practice gratitude. We need to help one another through this time.
Grief & Loss
In 1969, psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross introduced what became known as the “five stages of grief.” These stages of grief were based on her studies of the feelings of patients facing terminal illness, but many people have generalized them to other types of negative life changes and losses. The experience of COVID-19 has thrown our world into grief collectively and individually. This is why it is so important to acknowledge your own grief, as well as be aware of the grief & loss that others are experiencing too.
Shock and disbelief. Right after a loss, it can be hard to accept what happened. The last day of “real” school, before your school went “virtual”. The shock of being told by your parents, your principal, the government that you would need to “shelter in place”. The shock of not being able to see family and friends face to face. You may have felt numb and had trouble believing that these changes really happened, or you may have even denied the truth. What has shocked and created disbelief for you?
Sadness. Profound sadness is probably the most universally experienced symptom of grief. You may have feelings of emptiness, despair, yearning, or loneliness. You may also cry or feel emotionally unsettled. Realizing that you may not go back to school this year, that you may not have a chance to go to prom or graduation, that you and your friends will have to say farewell virtually, and so many other rights of passage that mark the end of a school year, may be creating feelings of sadness and lethargy. What are your losses? What is making you feel sadness?
Guilt. You may regret or feel guilty about things you did or didn’t say or do. You may also feel guilty about certain feelings (e.g. feeling relieved that you don’t have to see someone at school anymore). You may feel guilt about being in a certain country where the cases of COVID-19 are being managed and you have flattened the curve. You may feel guilty for being glad that your parents are not on the frontlines as medical workers. We, all in times of grief & loss, have feelings of guilt because we compare our situation to someone else’s in order to find a way to better cope with our own reality. What have you been feeling guilty about?
Anger. Even if the loss was nobody’s fault, you may feel angry and resentful. If you lose a loved one or a friend, you may be angry with yourself, God, the doctors, or your community for not doing more. You may feel the need to blame someone for the injustice that was done to you. If your loss is more abstract, the loss of going to school everyday, participating in extracurricular activities, attending school & community events, awards programs, prom, graduation, you will still feel anger and a loss of control. What are you missing out on in life that is making you angry? What is making you angry about how the world is responding to COVID-19? You may feel angry that your family, friends, community and the world are not doing enough. You may feel angry that TOO MUCH is being done and it feels unfair and unnecessary. You may feel somewhere in-between or different emotions on different days. What is making you angry about COVID-19 and the challenges you are facing day to day?
Fear. A significant loss can trigger a host of worries and fears. You may feel anxious, helpless, or insecure. The death of a loved one can trigger fears about your own mortality, of facing life without that person, or the responsibilities you now face alone. The loss of what you expected your school year to be (ie., going to school, hanging out with friends, celebrating milestones, getting excited about the end of a school year, looking forward to summer, transitioning to college) may trigger you and create feelings of fear and worry. What are your fears and worries right now?
If you are experiencing any of these emotions due to COVID-19, it may help to know that your reaction is natural and that you’ll heal in time. Being able to name and claim our feelings related to grief & loss, is the first step. Take some time to talk with someone and/or to journal about your grief.
Not everyone who grieves goes through all of these stages—and that’s okay. Contrary to popular belief, you do not have to go through each stage in order to heal. For many of us, grief comes in waves. Some of the waves, you can “stick it” and withstand the wave on your own, other times the wave overcomes you, and you need to reach out and ask for help and let someone help you. You can’t avoid a wave in the ocean, you need to let it come and wash over you. This is the same with the emotions related to grief and loss. Let the waves come, feel what you feel, let it wash over you. You can get back up again on your own or with the help of a trusted friend or loved one. You will be alright. Release, release, peace.
NOTE: Remember that one of the essential ways to get through grief & loss is to practice self-care in terms of maintaining good sleep, exercise, hydration & nutrition (Keeping Your Table Stable)
64 Self-Care Ideas For People Who Are Coping With Grief & Loss
More Resources for Grief & Loss:
Transitions & Celebrations
It is at this time of the academic year that we all begin to think about different transitions that we may experience, such as moving from elementary to middle school, middle school to high school, and high school to college. We also think about friends that are moving away at the end of the year. In addition, we celebrate in big and small ways all of our achievements from the year in so many different areas of our lives: academics, athletics, music, art, extra-curricular activities, service, leadership, and scholarship. We celebrate meeting our goals with family, friends, classmates, teammates, teachers, and our communities.
Because of COVID-19, we may not be able to support one another through these transitions & celebrations in the traditional ways that we have in the past. We may need to take our face-to-face transitions & celebrations virtual. What are your traditional ways of supporting students, families, teachers, and your community with transitions & celebrations? How will you innovate and be creative so that you still provide meaning for yourself & others?
Virtual Graduation. Use GoToMeeting. Work with administration, teachers, senior students, senior parents. Form a committee. Make a plan for how you want to commemorate the Class of 2020.
Create a slideshow for the class. Use a baby pic from every senior and the senior yearbook photo. Ask students to submit songs for the background music.
Pre-record & videotape the remarks of key speakers. Shorten the length of time. Compile into one graduation speech.
Share out to the community the Open Letter to Seniors from Chris Dier (a teacher of the year, who did not have his own high school graduation due to Hurricane Katrina in Louisiana in the USA)
Encourage students to host a ZOOM graduation party with their friends for the ceremony itself and a celebration afterwards.
Consider ordering a special commemorative item to mark the COVID-19 Class of 2020.
NOTE: The steps above for high school graduation can be used at any divisional level or at the classroom level for end of the year transitions & celebrations
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More Resources for Transitions & Celebrations:
Giving & Gratitude
The stories that we have seen of human triumph, innovation, creativity, and kindness have provided all of us with hope. It also gives us the strength to carry on, when we see others in even more challenging situations than ourselves finding their way through and helping others too!
It’s no coincidence that those who focus on others in need and support their communities, especially during times of crises, tend to be happier and healthier than those who act selfishly. Helping others not only makes a difference to your community—and even to the wider world at this time—it can also support your own mental health and well-being. Much of the anguish accompanying this pandemic stems from feeling powerless. Doing kind and helpful acts for others can help you regain a sense of control over your life—as well as adding meaning and purpose.
Even when you’re self-isolating or maintaining social distance, there’s still plenty you can do to help others.
Follow guidelines for preventing the spread of the virus. Even if you’re not in a high-risk group, staying at home, washing your hands frequently, and avoiding contact with others can help save the lives of the most vulnerable in your community and prevent overburdening the healthcare system.
Reach out to others in need. If you know people in your community who are isolated—particularly the elderly or disabled—you can still offer support. Perhaps an older neighbor needs help with groceries or fulfilling a prescription? You can always leave packages on their doorstep to avoid direct contact. Or maybe they just need to hear a friendly, reassuring voice over the phone. Many local social media groups can help put you in touch with vulnerable people in your area.
Donate groceries. Panic-buying and hoarding have not only left grocery store shelves stripped bare but have also drastically reduced supplies to underserved populations. You can help older adults, low-income families, and others in need by donating food or cash.
Be a calming influence. If friends or loved ones are feeling overwhelmed, try to help them gain some perspective on the situation. Instead of scaremongering or giving credence to false rumors, refer them to reputable news sources. Being a positive, uplifting influence in these stressful times can help you feel better about your own situation too.
Be kind to others. An infectious disease is not connected to any racial or ethnic group, so speak up if you hear negative stereotypes that only promote prejudice. With the right outlook and intentions, we can all ensure that empathy, kindness and charity spread throughout our communities even faster than this virus.
NOTE: adapted https://www.helpguide.org/articles/anxiety/coronavirus-anxiety.htm
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Clear Heads, Calm Hearts & Clean Hands
My hope is that reading this article inspired you and helped you to take a moment to remember how important it is to let yourself grieve, to support one another through transitions & celebrations, and to be kind and grateful. During this challenging time, we all find it more difficult to stay positive, to maintain our well-being, and to communicate and stay connected with one another. Remember to breathe and to take a moment each day to practice gratitude. List 3 things you are grateful for each day. Share your thoughts with a loved one, a student, a parent and watch as your ability to overcome this challenge grows stronger, as you practice gratitude daily!