We are surrounded at the moment with statistics on how many people have died today or this week due to the corona virus. The figures are shocking but do not tell us anything of the people who have died, or those that have been left behind. The numbers are also difficult to take in or even emotionally connect with. We might berate ourselves about this, but it is an entirely natural phenomenon. We become numb to the numbers as they rise. In fact, psychologists have named it ‘psychic numbing’ to reflect the fact that we do not cope with the scale of the deaths well. In fact, compassion can decrease as the numbers rise.
This is not because we are callous, but because we evolved to care for and protect those closest to us. As the numbers get bigger, it means less to us personally. Charities understand this very well. When they have a campaign for support during a terrible large-scale tragedy, rather than tell us the numbers of people involved, they focus on one individual who is suffering. That way, it starts to feel personal again.
Complex (or complicated) grief disorder is a response that differs from usual grief in its intensity and the length of time it continues. It is called a disorder because it affects day-to-day life and impacts on functioning. There are many reasons for grief to become complex. As always there are no rules about how people respond, or why. Does the fact that a loved one has died from Covid rather than anything else make a difference? I say that it does. A Covid-related death may provoke a more intense grief response than death for another reason.
Why do I connect complex grief with Covid?
Firstly, there is the unexpected nature of the loss. This virus was on us in no time and is causing the deaths of people who would otherwise have lived a great deal longer. Death can also happen very quickly after diagnosis. Then there are the social restrictions to consider. Being separated from loved ones who are dying is difficult, even traumatic. Comforting the dying and saying goodbye is important for those who will be left. It also helps to minimise the disbelief or ‘protest’ that happens when we are bereaved. That can delay acceptance of the death and keep us stuck. This reaction is compounded if we are unable to attend a funeral and mark the death.
Does this matter?
Yes. It is always helpful to understand why we feel the way we do. Views differ on how useful it is to put a label on things that impact us emotionally. It may also guide us towards more compassion towards ourselves. Understanding that there are reasons for grief to feel stuck or unmanageable can lead to us being gentler and forgiving with ourselves. It can also lead us towards getting support, if that is what we feel we need and choose to do.