Processing Complicated Loss

Erin Lynn Nau, PhD, LCSW
3 min readMar 28, 2020

I have mixed feelings writing a blog post during an unimaginable crisis. However, writing helps me process the feelings — fear, anxiety, sadness, and uncertainty — that creep up on me. And then I can help people cope with theirs.

I keep thinking about the loss people are experiencing by being taken out of their daily lives. Schools across the world are making really difficult decisions about how to best look after their students and staff. One heart-wrenching decision is the cancellation of graduations. When I thought of the students missing out on commencement, I felt a tremendous sense of loss for the opportunity to celebrate their achievements. So many people are feeling this type of loss; missing religious rites of passage, canceled retirements, their jobs and income, couples who planned their perfect wedding. The list could go on and on.

I do not need to rehash what has been written everywhere this week. However, my work makes me qualified to help people cope with all kinds of grief and loss. So here are a few things you can do:

Allow yourself and others to feel these feelings

Grief and loss do not look the same for all people. Allow yourself to feel the whole range of emotions. No emotion is wrong or bad. Try not to take your emotions out on others. Remember that they are having feelings, too. Try to use specific words: I feel angry because I cannot control this situation. I feel sad because I was really looking forward to graduation.

Compartmentalize your feelings

Many people across the world will experience grief over losing loved ones. Give them space to mourn. Not everyone will be able to accept or understand your grief over the loss of an important event — especially those who lose loved ones. Think about what other people are experiencing before choosing how you share your grief. Be gracious and kind to everyone experiencing loss.

Find personal ways to celebrate and mourn

It’s okay to celebrate with the people you are with. Use your pantry staples and make something soothing. Share your accomplishments with the people you love. If you are alone, plan a group video chat. Wear the special outfit you bought for the day. It’s also okay to truly mourn what you are missing out on. Write down what you are mourning and your feelings about it and bury it — literally or figuratively. Draw a grave for whatever you mourn. Bury the piece of paper in the backyard. (The fresh air will do you some good.) Post about it on social media so others dealing with similar losses can share, too.

Give yourself time

Eventually, this immediate crisis will end. None of us knows how or when or what that will look like. Be prepared to be alone with your feelings for a while. They will come and go. Some people may not be able to process this loss until well after the crisis has passed. The losses may be compounded with other losses, so be extra kind with yourself and others. There is no timeline for any grief. This is an especially shocking one. Most health insurance plans now cover tele-mental health services. Reach out to a therapist even if it’s just for a few sessions. A therapist can help you develop coping skills.

Above all else, we need to be kind to ourselves and others. The feelings we are experiencing are new and reach depths we may not have known existed for ourselves. Remember to breathe. Remember to be kind. Remember to take a break from the onslaught of news. Remember to reach out to the people you love. We are all isolated in this together.

Reach out to me on twitter @erinerlcsw. Tell me about your losses. And let’s virtually celebrate you!

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Erin Lynn Nau, PhD, LCSW

Feminist. Social Worker. Researcher. I am a PhD candidate whose research focuses on self-worth and early adolescent girls. www.erinlnau.com