MERI Center Blog

Grief in the Time of Corona

*This piece is also being published by the UCSF Department of Psychiatry.

Words are not enough, they never are, but particularly in this pandemic of loss.  Still, here are a few thoughts to help us find a way through the terrible pain of grief in the time of COVID-19.

Grief is the pain of loss

Our losses are multiple, nearly overwhelming, and being experienced right now by everyone on this planet.  We all know the ache of being at odds with our own lives.  We all know vulnerability.  We all know loss.  The current pandemic is bringing us loss—and grief, the human response to loss--at scale.  Many losses are of people-- our family, our lovers, our  friends, our neighbors, people across the world we have never known.  But our losses are of other important things too-- school, work, connection, the prom, sports, certainty, predictability, blissful ignorance, weddings, funerals, normalcy.  Some losses are life delayed (for who knows how long), some are life canceled and gone forever.  Each person’s grief is personal, and true, and incomparable to another’s.  There is no ranking of loss, just what it means to each of us to go without, to miss, to be separated, to be disappointed, to feel alone and bereft.

Grief has to be, because we love

Grief is normal.  We grieve the loss of what we care about.  If you are hoping to avoid grief, then you’d have to avoid love.  Noting this connection can help soften the sting of these hard feelings.  In this way, grief is something of value and is worth protecting.  Hence, many cultures and societies have long ritualized the mourning period.  Our funerals must now be online and in our hearts.  But ritual reminds us that we have lost what we love and points us to the comfort of community, honor, and meaning.

Grief is how loss heals

Grief is necessary.  Grief is a powerful, painful, and deep experience of how we deal with loss.  Understanding what you’re feeling is itself therapeutic, even though it means sitting with the discomfort and pain we all inevitably feel.  There is no right way to grieve, there is just the process that each of us must go through to integrate our losses into our lives. Grief is the human process of metabolizing and accommodating loss. 

There are a few things to know about grief

First, grief is an amalgam of emotions.  Grief can feel like impossible sadness, but it can also work through proxies. For example, you might find yourself angry or numb or discombobulated, etc.  Even odd giddiness can be grief talking.  You might note it in your thoughts or feel it in your body. And grief rarely presents itself as any single emotion for very long.

Second, grief is dynamic. That means that grief comes and it also goes.  It’s important to note that whatever you are feeling will not last forever in the same way or same intensity. Furthermore, a hallmark of emotion is that it cannot be controlled. We’ve met many mourners ashamed of unwanted feelings (guilt, anger, relief, indifference), but such feelings are normal.  Our advice is to ride grief’s waves rather than try to command them. 

Third, there is no particular timing to grief.  In fact, grief can begin even in anticipation of loss (anticipatory grief), or it might be delayed by months or years. When taking into account how grief shifts shape over time, it is important to recognize that we are never “done” with it, just as we are not done with whomever or whatever we have lost.

All that said, we recognize that grief can trip into depression, and we tend to distinguish the two based on severity and time since the loss was incurred.  Whatever the case, we strongly recommend you seek professional counseling if you simply want help  or are struggling for long periods of time.  There is nothing pathological about wanting help, and therapy—whether individual or group sessions, online or from 6 feet away—can be helpful anytime along the way. 

Finally, even the words of a great poet pale in the profound pain and the fundamental diminishment of our losses.  But, perhaps, simple words can offer some small solace in our new lives.

In Blackwater Woods

Look, the trees
are turning
their own bodies
into pillars

of light,
are giving off the rich
fragrance of cinnamon
and fulfillment,

the long tapers
of cattails
are bursting and floating away over
the blue shoulders

of the ponds,
and every pond,
no matter what its
name is, is

nameless now.
Every year
I have ever learned

in my lifetime
leads back to this: the fires
and the black river of loss
whose other side

is salvation,
whose meaning
none of us will ever know.
To live in this world

you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it

against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.

–Mary Oliver (American Primitive, 1983)


Courtesy of our friend and grief counselor and author, Claire Bidwell Smith, here is a list of helpful resources:

Online Support: 

  • Modern Loss - online community for all grievers 
  • Dougy Center - for grieving children
  • Compassionate Friends - for grieving parents
  • Motherless Daughters - for women who have lost a mom
  • Soaring Spirits International - for widows and widowers


  • On Grief and Grieving - Elisabeth Kubler-Ross
  • It's OK That You're Not OK - Megan Devine
  • Bearing the Unbearable - Joanne Cacciatore
  • Permission to Grieve - Tom Zuba
  • Anxiety the Missing Stage of Grief - Claire Bidwell Smith


  • Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
  • One More Time with Feeling
  • Coco
  • Truly Madly Deeply
  • P.S. I Love You


  • Where's the Grief
  • What's Your Grief
  • Grief Out Loud
  • Terrible, Thanks for Asking
  • Grief Works