Tracey Carlos is one of many people whose parents died from COVID-19. In this Healthline article, Mindpath Health’s Leela R. Magavi, MD, discusses how to cope with overwhelming grief during the pandemic.
Bob and Bano Carlos were married 53 years when they both died from COVID-19. According to their daughter, Tracey Carlos, they were inseparable.
During a phone call on March 14, 2020, Carlos learned that her mom had a fever and that her father wasn’t feeling well. Both of Carlos’ parents tested positive for COVID-19, and both were intubated in the intensive care unit (ICU) on March 20.
Because her mother lived with myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS), Carlos knew the chances of her surviving COVID-19 were unlikely. She died on March 25 at 73 years old.
“Dad lasted 30 days in the ICU, and we fully expected him to recover. He had (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), but he practically forgot he had it because it wasn’t a major part of his life,” Carlos said. Bob died on April 24 at 75 years old.
The toll of multiple losses
Losing more than one family member in a short time frame is considered a concurrent crisis, said Therese A. Rando, PhD, psychologist, and owner of the Institute for the Study and Treatment of Loss.
This type of loss can lead to grief overload, or cumulative grief. Reviewing your relationship with the deceased is part of healthy mourning, Rando added.
While people who lose multiple loved ones will still experience the stages of grief — denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance — Dr. Leela R. Magavi, psychiatrist and regional medical director for Mindpath Health, said the severity of the pain may be amplified.
“When individuals are overwhelmed with multiple losses, they are more likely to remain in the stage of denial for longer periods of time,” says Dr. Magavi. They may engage in avoidant behavior by consuming alcohol or using substances to numb their pain.
“Each loss warrants time, reflection, and healing,” Dr. Magavi said. “I remind individuals that there is no correct way to grieve.”
While the loss of both parents is complex, there are ways to cope. Below are some to consider.
Know you have unique challenges
Death during the pandemic, whether related to COVID-19 or not, can take more time to grieve due to shock, said Rando.
Traumatization can cause post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and anxiety.
Feel all the feelings
Dr. Magavi advises her clients to name their feelings out loud by describing what they’re feeling emotionally and throughout their body.
“They can make a log of their emotions and identify any triggering factors, which exacerbated their condition, as well as alleviating factors, which helped them feel better. This activity helps us learn more about what we feel, why we feel, and what we can do to combat helplessness and take control during this time of uncertainty,” she said.
Memorialize in some way
Because traditional ways of memorializing a deceased loved one are restricted during the pandemic, finding closure can be more difficult.
Recounting memorable moments, looking through photographs, partaking in a loved one’s favorite activity, or writing a letter are ways to memorialize, said Dr. Magavi.
Advocate on their behalf
Turning sadness and anger into spreading awareness about COVID-19 became Carlos’ greatest way of dealing with her loss.
“I had people tell me they weren’t taking COVID seriously — not even wearing masks — until they read my posts. That’s almost been a relief for me. Yes, my parents are gone, but who didn’t die because they read my posts?” Carlos said.
Grieve with others
While it’s more difficult to grieve with family and friends in person during the pandemic, connecting over the phone or online can still provide support.
“Grieving with family and friends may aid those who fear tackling their emotions on their own. I encourage individuals to own their grief and to avoid altering their grieving process to match societal or familial expectations,” Dr. Magavi said.
Seeing a therapist helped Carlos deal with difficult emotions. “She assured me it was OK to be angry, and I needed to hear that from somebody. There were things I told her that I couldn’t tell my brother, and it was great to have someone else to talk to,” Carlos said.
Move on, not without
When multiple losses occur, assumptions, expectations, and beliefs about life change, and the living have to find ways to reconcile these.
Read the full Healthline article with sources.