Stock Up on Compassion: Managing Grief in a Pandemic
Today was an “off” day. I’m usually a pretty positive person who always wears a smile, but today I felt…let’s see how did I feel? I felt sad. And weepy. And tired. Like so many of us, the social distancing that is meant to keep us safe is wearing pretty thin. I miss being with my family, hugging my daughter, babysitting my precious grandson and pulling him close for snuggles. I miss hanging out with my friends, the simple joy going to a sporting event, or listening to live music. I just miss how things were.
I’m experiencing a kind of grief and I don’t think I’m alone. It certainly feels like grief and loss. As a collective, we are grieving the loss of close human contact, of doing all the day to day things we used todo. We are grieving the loss of normalcy, and we worry about what the future may bring.
If we, as adults are feeling this way, you can be absolutely sure our students and their families are as well. The 2019-2020 school year is over. No more bus rides, walks, or bike rides to school. No more waving at the crossing guard in the morning. No more lectures, group work, recess, meeting up with friends during passing period, no more senior year, prom, or graduation ceremony. The feelings of loss are real. Counselors, teachers, and other school staff are not immune. You will not see “your kids” again this year. It’s a lot to take in.
So, if we, the helping adults are grieving, how do we get our students, our colleagues, and ourselves through this grief?
I think a good place to start is to name it and recognize it in yourself, then help your students do the same. It also helps to remember the 5 stages of grief; denial, anger, bargaining, sadness, and acceptance. It’s important to note that these stages don’t necessarily happen in order, but getting to a place of acceptance is where a sense of control kicks in. It is the power.
Social distancing measures will be with us for a while. Help students understand what they can and can’t control during this time. There is power in knowing what you can do. Kids can wash their hands.Kids can keep a safe distance. Kids can stay connected with their friends through social media and phone calls. Kids can express what they are feeling. What else can kids do? Help them make a list.
Students may find themselves worrying and imagining the worst. School counselors can help them come into the present by teaching mindfulness practices, deep breathing, and meditation. Help them to know that in this moment, right now, they are ok. Point out to students that all of this is temporary.
Finally, this is a good time to stock up on compassion, especially for yourself. We are living in unprecedented times and the work you typically do as a school counselor has changed radically in a matter of weeks. You may be dealing with your own sense of loss too. As you talk to your students, offering tips and support, remember to save a serving or two for yourself.