Mourning is something very intimate. It resides in our deepest emotions, and when something affects that process, it cuts deep into our souls.
The current crisis causes painful ordeals:
- A friend who can only visit her dying father in the nursing home, for less than half an hour twice a day.
- A funeral ceremony that only fifteen people can attend.
- Appointments with the funeral director, which you can book only online.
- A comforting hug is currently banned because of social distancing …
How to mourn in these times?
In short, I see two different ways to mourn:
- Problem focused mourning (your emotions direct you)
- Solution focused mourning (you direct your emotions).
In an extreme form, problem-focused mourning focuses attention on the sadness; you (often unconsciously) grieve in such a way that it feels as if it determines your life. This form of grieving is analogous to an analysis paralysis that can arise from problem focused thinking, i.e. you go so deeply into the analysis of a problem that you become caught in it:
- “What is wrong?”
- “Where did it go wrong?”
- “Why did you do it that way?”
- “Who else was involved?
When you confront great sorrow, you will almost automatically end up in this kind of grief first. There is pain, and looking forward might cause you fear or bring uncertainty. In such moments you could become very susceptible to the impact of circumstances, like now in this coronavirus crisis. The real-life examples you read at the beginning of this article, cut like a knife when they occur to you.
Problem focused mourning is logical. And a pitfall at the same time. After all, circumstances happen all the time. Also in non-corona times:
- Funeral directors give their guidelines for ceremonies, and there may be significant mutual differences.
- Different undertakers may have moments when they are available.
- Palliative units may differ in what they allow family members to do.
- Not everyone likes to be comforted with a hug.
However, the moment they restrict us – as they do now – circumstances often feel so damned insurmountable and unfair.
What is needed then?
Stop. Stand still for a while, take a breath and land in the current moment.
The current moment is the tipping point between problem focused and solution focused mourning, the point on which you can make a choice. Do you let your emotions steer you? Or do you become their helmsman?
Solution focused mourning doesn’t bring you deep into your sorrow, it brings your sorrow into the ‘here and now’ of your life and shows you how to deal with it, out of your genuine attention. In the first place, this is about you fully recognising the incredible pain caused by the current circumstances; of how bloody awful it is that this damned coronavirus crisis brings so much hassle just now. And this is also about being understanding and kind, to yourself and others; the current circumstances are huge…
What is the difference with problem focused mourning? The next step.
Instead of allowing yourself to get into analysis paralysis, you start a solution focused exploration by taking a close look at the factual reality underlying your emotions:
- What do I want to be different (now that I am mourning)?
- To what do I need to face up?
- What ‘Best Memories’ do I want to cherish?
- How can these ‘Best Memories” help me to deal constructively with the loss?
- What difference will that make?
- How am I going to do that?
- What worked in the past?
- What small steps can I take, taking into account the current situation?
- And what else?
In my job as a horse assisted solution focused coach, I deliberately stay close to nature and continuously look for processes that could be helpful for humans, too. In nature, factual reality rules. Once I witnessed an agitated mare galloping repeatedly between her dead foal and the herd, a herd that was continuing its journey. After a while, she stayed with the herd and didn’t return to her foal. After all, staying with the dead foal would have endangered her own life.
It is not my intent to analogise between the emotions of animals and emotions of people. This is also definitely not a plea to rationalise emotions in a grieving process. On the contrary, emotions are of utmost importance! I do want to invite you not to get stuck in emotions and to continuously – certainly in these coronavirus times – stay attuned to the factual reality (the circumstances) to find what is still possible.
My choice for the verb ‘to find’ (instead of ‘to search’) is a conscious choice. A solution focused choice. After all, if you want to find something, you believe it might actually be there. If you search for something, that belief is not always there.
I wish everyone who is currently going through a grieving process much courage to keep on finding a way – your way – to strike a balance between emotions and factual reality.
Wendy Van den Bulck