Overcoming Isolation and Loss
By Dr. Deborah Langosch, LCSW
As we welcome and adjust to this time of re-entry from the pandemic, it’s an opportunity to identify where we are, what we’ve learned, and what we need going forward. The pandemic has had a far-reaching impact and affected us greatly. Even though we’ve had this shared experience, many have felt very isolated and alone. When we’re cut off from our usual supports and live with fear and uncertainty, anxiety and depression build. So much was interrupted or lost: connections to others, our supports and communities, our loved ones, our schools, jobs, and economic and food security. Families of color were disproportionally impacted by the pandemic. How have we endured this time and figured out what to do? Despite all that’s been experienced, families have come together with so much resiliency and found impressive ways to cope.
“…it’s believed that over 40,000 children in the US have lost their parents due to the virus which may contribute to behavioral health concerns.”
Multigenerational families face unique challenges but have remarkable strengths that are important to acknowledge. When basic necessities are unavailable, technology feels insurmountable, supports aren’t accessible and children struggle with remote learning, this can easily overwhelm/deplete a family’s equilibrium. It’s difficult to manage all of this when the responsibility falls on a caregiver who may be trying to keep things stable. Emotions can run high or become shut down and it may not be clear where to turn for help. For families who’ve had early life trauma, disruptions in attachment, or other significant losses, reactions can be activated and complicate coping. And yet, kin caregivers have persevered, accessed resources, and kept their families intact and moving forward.
Unfortunately, it’s believed that over 40,000 children in the US have lost their parents due to the virus which may contribute to behavioral health concerns. However, woven with grief are remarkable stories of hope, hardiness, and transformation. One family* exemplifies this well.
Ms. J assumed the care of her two grandchildren, ages 10 and 7 after the tragic death of their mother from COVID about a year ago. Ms. J wanted to protect her grandchildren from the pain of this immense loss and was also worried she’s break down in front of them and make things worse. They rarely talked about their mom and each grieved silently and alone. Due to the shutdown, none of their usual supports were available as their school and church were closed, friends were unavailable and they quickly became overwhelmed.
Ms. J began to sink into despair but then remembered that her pastor and a good friend helped her overcome obstacles in the past. Even though she couldn’t see her pastor or attend services in person, she asked her grandchildren to show her how to connect to her church online which provided comfort and solace, and access to her spiritual community. She called her friend who was sympathetic but direct and reminded her she had options. Instead of avoiding her painful feelings, Ms. J returned to the idea that “If you can name it, you can tame it.” She realized that facing grief could become less formidable and she could move from helpless to helpful for her grands. They began to share memories of their mom, drew pictures of her, read books about loss to normalize their feelings, and watched videos of favorite family times together. The children shared their worries that they’d be abandoned if their grandmother got COVID. She reassured them that everything possible was being done to stay safe but there would always be a close family member to raise them. These discussions and activities provided safe and shared outlets for all even though adults and children tend to grieve differently. By taking care of herself, Ms. J had more capacity to respond to the needs of her grandchildren who coped so much better as a result.
So what can serve as protective factors to help families get through challenging times?
The following strategies can be very helpful.
- Stay connected and reach out if you need more support.
- It’s okay to ask for help and there are many short-term therapies that are very effective.
- Do what helps you feel safe and secure.
- When things feel unpredictable, build in routines, maintain structure and consistency for you and your grands to counterbalance this.
- Separate what’s in your control and what isn’t.
- Rely on things that have helped you get through tough times before.
- Consider activities for your mind, body, and spirit that keeps you focused on your well-being and that let you pause and breathe.
- Remember to exhale.
- Video chat with your close friends.
- Connect with your spiritual beliefs and community.
- Use your support networks, both informal and formal.
- Join an online support group.
- Take free online technology training through AARP or other programs.
- Use expressive arts – writing, art, music, and dance- as outlets. Listen to your favorite songs. Read a meaningful poem. Watch a dance performance. Create a crafts project. Start a gratitude journal.
- Take a quiet moment for yourself. Meditate on your own or by using an app like Headspace, Simple Habit, or Calm.
- Challenge yourself to stay in the moment.
- Make your space comfortable and cozy.
- Spend time outside and enjoy nature.
- Prepare your favorite food.
- Remember to laugh when possible.
- Maintain a focus on cultural norms. Think about how to be culturally responsive and reduce the stigma of asking for help. Identify where to find it.
- Link clients to access services and resources such as Social Security Child Survivor Benefits, the National Child Traumatic Stress Network, What’s your Grief? and state Kinship Navigators.
- Help identify and support a family’s strengths, internal and external resources.
- Normalize reactions and feelings to decrease a sense of being alone
- Emphasize how essential self-care is.
After enduring tremendous stressors, we’re entering a time of resurfacing, reconnecting, and reuniting. Much has been lost, but much has been gained. Perhaps this quote says it best:
“We have learned to rejoice, to mourn, to grieve, and to have hope once again.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Deborah Langosch, Ph.D., LCSW, is a clinical social worker, trainer, psychotherapist, and consultant in Brooklyn, NY. She has trained thousands of providers in the areas of loss, trauma, and bereavement as well as on the mental health issues of kinship care families. Deborah presents locally and nationally on these topics and provides training and consultation on evidence-based treatments. Deborah is a co-managing editor of the GrandFamilies online journal and a founding member of the GrandFamilies Outcome Workgroup (GrOW).