5 Ways to Cope with Grief Over Missed Occasions

The sadness of cancelled graduations, weddings and funerals can be overwhelming. Here are some ways to manage the loss of those events.

Posted in , Apr 2, 2020

Graduates throw their caps in the air

The spread of Covid-19 has shut down schools and workplaces and led to the cancellation of weddings, vacations, graduations and numerous other special occasions. Many people are having to navigate the grief of these losses from their own homes and struggling to make peace with their new reality. Guideposts.org spoke with grief expert David Kessler about how to manage the specific kind of grief that people are experiencing from the cancellation of much looked forward to events.

Kessler is the author of numerous bestselling books on grief including his latest, Finding Meaning: The Sixth Stage of Grief. He spent years talking to people about their grief, and is finding that the emotions people are experiencing because of the coronavirus are very different from other types of grief.

"We're familiar with the death of a loved one," Kessler said. "[We're unfamiliar] with dealing with job losses, financial losses...the loss of that perfect wedding that you've probably been planning since you were nine. These are huge losses people are dealing with."

Here are a few of Kessler's suggestions for managing these very unique kinds of grief:

1. Acknowledge what you are feeling

One of the things people are struggling with is acknowledging that what they are feeling is not just discomfort, stress or sadness, but grief. But as Kessler explains, that's exactly what many of us are facing.

"Grief is change we did not want. We're all dealing with changes that none of us are wanting," Kessler said.

The first step to navigating your grief, Kessler says, is to acknowledge it.

"These are huge losses people are dealing with," Kessler said. "It helps to name them and recognize them so we can be sad about them and let those feelings through."

2. Accept that your grief counts

Kessler said there are very few hard and fast rules for grieving, but one that he adheres to is that we can't compare our losses.

"If your child was planning on studying abroad, and now that's been ruined, that's their worst grief," he explained. "If a wedding has been canceled, that's the bride, the groom's and their family's worst grief."

Health and safety are things to be grateful for. But just because no one has died doesn't mean you don't have a reason to grieve.

3. Allow yourself to feel it

Kessler said it isn't enough to acknowledge your emotions, you have to actually let yourself feel them. If you feel sad, and then feel guilty about being sad because other people have it worse, that makes the grieving process more difficult.

"If you fully feel the sadness, it moves through you," Kessler said. "If we can just feel it, rather than suppress it, we're going to do much better."

4. Recognize what's in your control

One of the scariest things about the spread of the coronavirus is that it is completely out of our hands. But just because this is a global issue doesn't mean there aren't things individuals can do to take action.

Kessler said focusing on the things that are in your control can help people let go of the events they may be missing. You can't control the cancellation of a funeral or graduation, but you do have control to make sure your hands are washed, that you are practicing social distancing and eating healthy.

5. Look for meaning

Kessler worked closely with Elizabeth Kübler-Ross, whose research created the five stages of grief, to add a sixth stage called finding meaning. In his opinion, this final stage is something everyone will have to do in the wake of the pandemic.

For example, Kessler said those whose wedding is cancelled might end up with a stronger marriage for going through these hard times together. A missed family vacation may bring the family closer together through long distance calls and video chats. Sheltering at home can help individuals focus on what really matters in their life. Focusing on these things can help make grief meaningful.

As Kessler said, "when a bone is broken, the place where it is broken becomes the strongest place in the bone."

Kessler is hosting a free online grief support group for anyone who would like to join.

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