Grieving in covid 19

Grieving in Covid 19 brings up so much more than loss of lifestyle and even loss of loved ones. The Corona Virus is the number one cause of death in the U.S right now, and everyone is suffering. But we may not all be suffering from exactly the same feelings. Are you out of a job? Lost a loved one? Fear you can’t return to normal? Is your business at risk, or are you facing bankruptcy? Are you grieving because you couldn’t say goodbye or don’t know when you’ll see family again? You could be grieving for one or all of those reasons.

I asked grief expert and author, Janalee Heinemann, for some tips on coping with so much pain. Janalee lost her father suddenly when she was 22 and has been helping people grieve ever since. She also happens to be my Rotary sister.

Rotary is part of this grieving in Covid 19 story

Rotary members believe that we have a shared responsibility to take action on our world’s most persistent issues.

Rotary international

I met Janalee in Rotary where we are members of the same club. Why does Rotary matter? Rotary International is 115 years old. It is an organization of volunteers credited with ending the scourge of Polio by raising funds and developing programs to distribute the Polio vaccine worldwide.

With 35,000 clubs worldwide and 1.2 million members, Rotary has hundreds of projects to help people cope with all the disasters that befall them. Now, Rotary has the potential to do for mental health what it did for polio and so many other causes. How do we raise the mental health appetite for helping people cope with the traumas they face? When people work together to raise awareness and distribute tools, any problem can be tackled.

Janalee’s Story

In weekly Rotary meetings, members share the important events in their lives as well as volunteering and fundraising for the causes they care about. And that is how Janalee became a rock and role model for me in so many ways. Here’s one tiny example of Janalee’s selfless devotion. She was out greeting voters every day during early voting in our city this year, even though she had not recovered from knee surgery and couldn’t drive yet. She always thinks of the need and how she can contribute.

Janalee spent ten years as a social worker and counselor in a hospital for children with cancer, and later worked with our local police department running grief groups for families that have experienced violent crimes and homicide.

Grieving in Covid 19 means accepting the human condition

Never having a chance to say goodbye occurs during war, immigration, protests, civil unrest, and abuse that ends in murder. Homicide victims don’t get a chance to say goodbye, and family members are double or triple devastated. One of the most devastating parts of Corona virus deaths is not being able to comfort loved ones on their death bed, as well as not being able to have funerals for them. This profoundly sad consequence of the disease brings up for everyone all the personal stories of loss without family and community participation in grief, burial, and celebration of life.

What did Janalee’s cancer patients want

So many of the children Janalee worked with, and comforted, through their illness wanted more than anything not to be forgotten. They wanted to be remembered. Janalee’s son Tad, a bodybuilder and pastor who shared his mother’s gift of caring, urged her to write the book of memory to honor the children she loved. And she did just that. Remember Me is very personal accounting of Janalee’s 10 years of working with children and teens with cancer, and her own personal story regarding Tad who had little chance of surviving his cancer. The book takes you through the incredible journey of these children and also that of their parents and siblings. It also gives you very intimate glimpses of the final days and words of the children and teenagers who did not survive, and gives you hope for what comes after this life. Tad himself passed away a year ago.

Grieving in Covid 19 with Janalee

“One of the things that help me a lot is that whenever I am hurting physically or mentally, I remind myself of the many people who had had more challenges than me yet still forge on,” Janalee told me. “One is a young woman in her thirties with whom we work on social justice. She is in a wheelchair, has seizures, and has to thicken liquids so she does not choke. Taylor has Complex Heredity Spastic Paraplegias. It is like a slow progressing ALS. Despite this very difficult disorder, she teaches little kids on Zoom, and does a lot of work on social justice. Of course, our son, Tad, is also an inspiration and reminder of not allowing myself to feel sorry.”

When a loved one is dying celebrate their life

“Last Christmas, four months before he died, Tad came here to spend what he knew would be his last Christmas with family. We had a great time with him despite him being on oxygen full time with lungs full of tumors and blood clots,” Janalee said. “He flew back to California Christmas day with his son Tyler because he was on a Phase 1 clinical trial there and had to be back for treatment the next day.”

Having a great time when you’re heartbroken is the key to helping others. Here are a few of Janalee’s tips for grieving:

Grieving in Covid 19: Talk about it

The most important thing is to talk about your grief. People are afraid to talk about a death to family members, or to a dying person for fear of upsetting them, Janalee says. But not talking freezes people in their pain instead of releasing them. Talking allows family members to feel their grief, to process their grief, and to ease the pain. Talking about a loved one who has passed can be enjoyable. You open the box of wonderful memories so that person is still alive with you. Especially talk with children and teens about grief and loss as a way healing for teens.

Make a photo album or video library of memories

Another way to preserve your memories is to create photo albums, if you haven’t already. This is what we do with all celebration events, so this is another opportunity to celebrate someone’s life. You can do this from posted photos on the internet, or the old fashioned way with actual albums with printed pictures. Janalee’s family all sent videos of Tad and created one, wonderful, heartwarming video memorial. You can start collecting videos any time.

Grieving is personal expression that can be satisfying and creative

Tad’s family members sewed masks from his beloved plaid shirts, but you can create many other art or music projects to honor the memory of someone you lost. Some families have people who love to sew and can create memory quilts. In many cultures shrines are created so that prayers can be offered. You can display photos, or light candles, or write in your journal about happy and sad memories. Make donations to a favorite charity. All these of these creative acts can celebrate the life of someone you lost even if you couldn’t honor them properly with a funeral, public memorial, or hold their hands at the end.

Life continues, and, as Janalee told me, always remember that however sad you are or frightened or missing someone, there are ways to volunteer to help others to lessen your own grief and lift your spirits.