Mental Health

How To Accept and Work Through the Delayed Grief You May Be Feeling Now

Published: May 11, 2021

In the past 14 months, we’ve all been through something unimaginable. 

You’ve seen the headlines: nearly 600,000 U.S. deaths from COVID-19, and millions more worldwide. Beyond the loss of life, we’ve each faced unique challenges regarding our health, jobs, families and other aspects of our lives. For many of us, it feels like we’ve been barely hanging on for over a year. Only now does it seem like the sun is peeking out from behind the clouds.

This pandemic has changed every one of us – in ways we can articulate and in ways we have yet to understand. But we are bound together by our unique experiences. And whether we recognize it or not, we’ve all seen and endured loss and grief.


We’re All Struggling With Loss and Grief

Loss and grief can look different for all of us and extend beyond the passing of family and friends. Loss and grief aren’t always easily defined. They don’t necessarily fit neatly into the same box for everyone. Consider the following experiences that perhaps you or someone close to you has gone through:

I had no idea how long we would have to put on this personal protective equipment. Day after day – the N95, the face shield, the gloves, the glasses, the gowns. I’ve seen so many people take their last breath that I’ve lost count. I feel like a fraud when I tell my patient it will be OK – when I know deep down that they, too, will die. I feel like I’ve lost compassion for my “regular” patients because I don’t have anything else to give. My soul is weary. 

How am I supposed to choose between working and making sure my 6-year-old has a safe place to go? My spouse can’t take off work or he will lose his job. I can work from home a couple days, but I can’t imagine trying to parent, teach first grade and work at the same time. I haven’t even been out of the house in four months. My soul is weary. 

I’m an introvert who’s secretly loved having to stay home to work. But I miss our Thursday evening movie group and traveling. Seeing the world is how I let go of the stress from this job. And my sister and I always go to concerts together. I miss that so much. I feel like I’m missing out on my niece and nephew growing up. I’ve lost so much in all this. My soul is weary. 

While you may each connect with different parts of these perspectives, they all have loss and grief in common. 

My hope is to honor some of what you’ve been through and put a voice and name to some of what you may still struggle with. No words will ever be able to fully touch the array of difficulties we’ve all encountered this past year, but this may be a start. 


A Year of Survival Mode Suppressed Many Emotions

Many of us – dare I say most of us – have been in survival mode for over a year. We’ve been trying to adapt to stay safe, protect our families, continue working and provide for those dependent on us. 

Now things are changing. Perhaps you feel emotions or memories rise as things start to become “normal” again, or when you see memories and pictures from last year on social media. You may wonder: “Why now? Why am I tired or feeling grief now, after all this time, when things are starting to get better?”

After so long in survival mode, the fatigue is in our souls. And as many of us begin to embrace a breath of fresh air, it’s completely normal for emotions to burst forth – anger, sadness, relief and joy, to name a few. 

You may be experiencing delayed grief – when you grieve the loss of something that happened in the past. This type of grief is hard because just as you’re starting to feel better, the reality of past loss can be tremendous. It’s as if you finally made room for those things to arise within you. 


3 Ways to Work Through Delayed Grief

woman by a window drinking coffee and writing in a notebook

Even as uncomfortable or unwanted as those feelings of sorrow may be, it’s important to let them come, feel them and give yourself grace in the process. When your grief becomes evident, there are several things you can do to practice self-care:

Write about what you’re remembering or feeling. Journaling is a great way to release memories and feelings. It helps to pull out the pain, put words to your memories and release the intensity of those emotions. 

Try prayer or meditation. Focus on becoming aware of what images or stories come to your mind and where they manifest in your body. Do you have a headache, stomachache or tense shoulders? As you breathe in and out, breathe into the place where you’re feeling tension.

Talk to someone who was part of the experience that saddens you. There are likely other people – a friend or a loved one – who are feeling the same way, even about things that we sometimes tell ourselves don’t really matter. 


You Are Not Alone

Remember that we’ve all been through an incredibly difficult season, a generational event that we’ll remember forever. Each one of us has lost different things and done all we could to keep it all together. 

Please know that whatever you’re feeling, it’s normal in a challenging situation. You are not alone, and you have a community of people and Methodist resources here to support you. 

Be kind to yourself and each other as you move along your journey toward healing and growth. 

More Resources

About the Author

Rev. Melissa Strong, M.Div., APBCC, is the service leader for Spiritual Care Services and oversees a team of four staff chaplains and 11 contract chaplains at Methodist Hospital and Methodist Women’s Hospital. 

“At the heart of chaplaincy is meeting people where they are and walking with them through the ebbs and flows of life," she said. "It's a privilege to share sacred ground with patients and staff alike, recognizing the rawness of both joy and sorrow, creating space to just be present in the midst of each one’s journey.”

See more articles from Melissa Strong, M.Div., APBCC
Melissa Strong, M.Div, APBCC