Grieving the loss of over half a million Americans to coronavirus

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Hannah Michelle Bussa
CONTRIBUTOR

The United States has tried to find ways to mourn the death toll during the pandemic, which now tops the number of Americans killed in WWII, Korea and Vietnam combined. Photo courtesy of Alex Brandon of AP.

The coronavirus pandemic has taken the lives of over 500,000 Americans, and each life lost represents a family member, friend or loved one.

Aysia, a woman who grew up in the Omaha area, lost her grandfather to COVID-19.

“He had struggled with pneumonia off and on for a while, so we actually didn’t know it was COVID until after he died,” Aysia said. “When we found out, I quarantined for two weeks. This was before there was available and affordable testing. My family took it really hard.”

Like many who lost loved ones during this year, her family couldn’t grieve with a traditional funeral. Months later, her grandma passed, and they held a rotating memorial service.

Geraldine Alexis, LIMHP, LPC, LCPC, PLADC and UNO alumna discussed the importance of grieving during this pandemic.

“Mourning the lives of 500,000-plus is not an easy feat,” she said. “Many mourn in different ways.”

Alexis said to be educated and know what changes to expect in the stages of grief. Processing loss is out of a person’s control, so understanding it is important.

“We have to learn how to accept [things we cannot control] and learn to live with them,” Alexis said. “Death is one of those things that, more than not, we have no control over. In contrast, there are some things we can have control over and can do something about.”

Alexis said that being proactive can help in responding to the loss of so many lives. She suggested mindfulness activities, relaxation techniques and engaging in positive activities like finding hobbies or interacting with others in a safe manner. She also pointed out the importance of following CDC guidelines like wearing masks and social distancing.

“This act of service will reduce anxiety or depression to a minimum because this will help another feel safe,” Alexis said.

Additionally, Alexis said that if a student notices someone is struggling, refer them to speak with a counselor at the university or in the community, either for mental health support or grief therapy. If someone waits to get help, they might turn to unhealthy methods to grieve.

“Grief therapy entails learning about the five stages of grief,” Alexis said. “As a therapist, I focus on helping an individual change their negative thought process to a positive one. Sessions begin with having the individual challenge their negative thought process and end with the individual focusing on how they can manage their behaviors, thoughts and emotions to start back living their ‘best life.’”

Alexis also spoke about the disparate impact of this pandemic on BIPOC communities.

“BIPOC are resilient people who have learned to overcome their challenges and hardships to include the pandemic and losses,” Alexis said. “However, there are some who may, in fact, struggle with the fierceness of this pandemic. As with non-BIPOC, these individuals ought to be referred to a professional as well.”

Alexis said to be willing to lend an ear to those who need support, but if that is not enough, do a ‘warm handoff’ to a health professional.

“Charles Darwin proposed a ‘theory of adaptation,’ and he claimed that we have to learn to adapt to the changes of our environment,” Alexis said. “However, if an individual is unable to adapt by himself, then there are professionals to assist along the way.”

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