Mental Health: A Support System During Grief and Loss

As we honor Memorial Day today, a time when communities and Gold Star families come together to remember the service members and Veterans in their lives who have died during their military service, the changes brought by Covid-19 have brought new challenges to coping with loss, bereavement (the experience of losing a loved one), and grief (the natural reaction to losing a loved one). 

Around holidays or events such as this, it’s normal to notice increased feelings of sadness or longing for people in your life who have died. You may also notice feelings of disappointment or perhaps anger that you are unable to participate in the ceremonies or traditions that help you feel supported during this time of yearIt’s common to feel unsure of how to navigate this alongside with friends, family, or others or to feel unsure how to ask others for support in your bereavement. 

If you are coping with grief or loss, consider the following thoughts and suggestions on seeking out support from others during this time.   

Be gentle with yourself. Grief does not have a set timeline and it is not a linear process. There may be days or periods of time where the grief feels stronger. There may also be times other times where it takes a backseat and feels less heavy. This is normal, and it can be both physically and emotionally tiring. It’s important in the more challenging times to continue to practice self-care and self-compassion. Make sure you are intentionally setting aside time to engage in things that reduce stress and enhance your health and well-being 

Remember that there is no single way to grieve or cope with grief. Grief may include many different thoughts feelings, and behaviors – even day-to-day for the same person! Your relationship with the person who died was unique to you and your grief related to losing them is tooYour thoughts and feelings may look and feel different than others. If you’re noticing yourself making comparisons between your thoughts/feelings/behaviors and those of other people, try to practice simply noticing those differences with a compassionate, non-judgmental lens.   

Name the feelings coming up for you out loud. Identifying our feelings helps us feel more in control of them. It gives us more space between feeling an emotion and our behavior. Naming your emotions, even as simple as “I’m sad and disappointed that we won’t be able to gather together as a family right now,” also opens a door for conversation and connection with those around us.  

Share memories, photos, or stories together. Our memories connect us to people in our life who have died. By sharing our memories, we honor what was meaningful in that relationship and build stronger connections with those around us. If, for example, you aren’t able to participate in a ceremony or event that you might usually attend for Memorial Day, consider setting aside time to call or video chat with someone you would usually attend with to share a memoryphoto, or song 

Try new and enjoyable activities with people you care aboutAn important part of coping with loss is continuing to work on your long-term hopes and personal goals. This can be even more powerful when we share it with others. Look for pleasant and enjoyable activities that you can do together that might help work towards these hopes or goalsIf you are quarantining together, consider cooking a new recipe together, going outside for walk or hike (if safe in your area), or thinking about ways to support your local community. If you are apart, you can still share these goals together or try new activities virtuallyPerhaps you could even begin researching and planning for a trip you’d like to take together when you’re able to do so.  

Remember that our relationships with other people can help us heal. When we feel overwhelming emotions, we may notice ourselves turning inward and isolating. It’s important to notice when this is happening and try to turn to supportive people around you. Nurturing our relationships with others is a key component of coping with grief.   

If you are supporting someone experiencing grief and feeling unsure of how to best support them, begin by asking them what might help them feel less alone with their griefYou might notice that someone experiencing grief might shy away from reminders of the loss, but don’t be afraid to talk about this with them if you notice this happeningOffer to listen to their thoughts or memories with a willing and compassionate ear. You may even gently encourage them to practice self-care or ask them to join you for the activities they enjoy. While we can’t take away the sadness our loved ones might be feeling around loss, we can help them carry it together.   

Grief and coping with grief and loss can look very different for different peopleIt is important to remember to continue to seek out support from those around you – even when you may be physically further away.  

If you’re feeling stuck or having trouble navigating grief and loss, consider getting support from a licensed professional mental health provider or connecting with a grief support group in your area. To learn more about our family, bereavement and support services at Home Base, visit www.homebase.org/connect2care, or call our clinic at 617-724-5202.


About the Author: Kat Dunford, MSW, LCSW completed her Bachelor of Science at Lesley University in Counseling with a specialization in Art Therapy and her Master’s Degree in Social Work from Boston College with a certificate in clinical work with Veterans and Military Families. Kat previously worked as a case manager in homelessness prevention and rapid re-housing program for Veteran families, where she assisted families in obtaining permanent housing. She also worked as a graduate social work intern in long-term care and oncology support services, providing individual and family counseling in the context of new diagnosis, treatment, co-occurring psychiatric and cognitive diagnoses, bereavement, and survivorship. At Home Base, Kat will support Veterans and their families as a clinical social worker in the Outpatient Clinic