Having multiple deaths in your family or social circle in a short period of time can be overwhelmingly painful. It seems as the you can’t catch your breath when you’ve lost a number of people in a short amount of time. Unfortunately, with the coronavirus epidemic, this is all too common in many people’s lives. In addition, a lot of times when you lose one parent, the other parent dies soon after – literally of a broken heart. Nothing and no one prepares you for dealing with multiple losses.
Grief has a way of affecting you not only cognitively and emotionally, but also physically. Your brain, immune system, endocrine system, and heart are all affected by grief and loss. When you have lost a number of people, this simply compounds the amount of stress on your mind and body. Luckily, you can get through multiple losses, or what is called cumulative grief. Multiple losses can be a risk factor for developing complicated grief, or traumatic grief.
Death is the most obvious type of loss, but there are other types of loss that can be hard to handle this well. Loss of friendships, romantic partnerships, physical ability, economic resources, jobs, and connection to your religious community can also be significant losses that pile up and cause this cumulative grief. If you’re wondering how to cope with multiple losses, here are some tips for this difficult process.
Even though you’ve lost a lot of people, each loss is important
It’s important to realize that each person or thing that you lost deserves its own time and energy to resolve. Grief is not something that happens on your time schedule, or anyone else’s. It would be nice if we could wrap it all up like a homework assignment for school or work project. However, when you’ve lost a number of people or important aspects of your life, you need to take the time to grieve each loss individually.
Not every loss is the same when you're dealing with multiple losses
Some losses are easier to resolve than others. As I’ve mentioned in other articles, there are number of factors that can complicate grief, which makes it harder for you to process the loss. One of those factors is unresolved issues with the deceased or the person you lost. If you have regrets about your relationship with the deceased, or things that you wish you had or had not said to the deceased, it can be harder to let go of the loss eventually. Similarly, if you did not get a chance to say goodbye to the person because he or she died suddenly and unexpectedly, it can be difficult to put that lost to rest.
You might want to take some time to write about this. Write down all the people that you lost on a sheet of paper and next to each name, jot down how close you were to him or her, as well as whether there were complicating factors. Did you lose this person suddenly, or did they die of a stigmatized illness like HIV/AIDS? Was the loss a pet, and we ridiculed for feeling grief about it? This can help you start to acquaint yourself with the terrain of your grief, so that it is easier to start to work through the feelings of grief. This will help you process each loss separately.
Please be patient and compassionate with yourself with multiple losses
We have a tendency in our culture to value independence and self-sufficiency, even in the face of incredible pain. You might have internalized some of this emphasis on being tough and “strong.” However, when it comes to grief, there is little value in pretending that you’re okay when you are heartbroken. The death of one person or the loss of one thing that’s important to you is hard enough. When you’ve lost a lot of people or a lot of things, expecting yourself to be the Marlboro man in the face of that much pain is just unrealistic. Avoidance and denial do not serve you well in this situation.
How can you take care of yourself when you’ve lost a number of people, especially when it has happened in a short time span? Saying no to unreasonable requests is one way. Accepting help from others when they want to support you is another way. Giving yourself time and space to express your emotions is helpful as well. If people are not treating you kindly during this very vulnerable time, you have the right to politely decline their company. These are just a few tips for self-care when you’ve lost a lot of people.
Attend to activities of daily living and your daily schedule
At the same time that you want to allow yourself time and space to grieve, it’s also important to attend to things like taking out the garbage, doing the dishes, showering, brushing your teeth, etc. this may seem obvious to you, but sometimes when you feel terrible emotionally, you might want to retreat into bed and sleeping all the time. The urge to escape can be very powerful when you’ve lost a lot of people.
Keeping to your regular daily schedule, including eating, exercise, and other basic self-care, can restore you to a sense of normalcy. Instead of drowning in cumulative grief, you can have periods of time when life is not all about your losses. This can be refreshing and life-affirming. You might have survivor’s guilt about not joining them in death, but I am sure that most of the people that you lost would not want you to give up your own life in order to commemorate their deaths. In fact, the fact that you are life means that you’ve been given a great gift – why squander it on only half existing?
The not-so-great escape
Similarly, beware of numbing out with alcohol and drugs. I have seen a number of people deal with grief by trying to escape the inevitable pain. However, drugs and alcohol already temporary solution that create their own problems. They can easily get out of control and lead you to develop substance abuse or substance dependence. Unfortunately, the grief that you are trying to avoid is simply waiting for you when you are no longer chemically altered. Therefore, when you’ve lost a number of people, it’s imperative that you develop healthier coping skills.
Losing a number of people in a short amount of time can be emotionally draining. However, you can get through it by working through each loss, being patient with yourself, having compassion for your own pain, taking good care of yourself, and sticking to healthy habits that keep your life on track. If you need help dealing with losing a number of people in a short time, please call for an appointment: 661-233-6771.