Grief counselors try to ease students’ pain during a pandemic

By Tamir Moore

For DCCC licensed professional counselor Laurie Griffith, the past 12 months have been difficult. 

 “Transitioning to online working required me to learn a whole new way of doing things,” Griffith said. Griffith, who has been at DCCC in her current role since 2018, explained that online work felt, in essence, like the start of a brand-new job. 

“Additionally, I was trying to support my family who were also impacted by the shutdown,” said Griffith, who added that she had to meet her own needs as well.

Griffith is not alone. She is one of many people in the DCCC community whose lives have changed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that the pandemic was declared on March 11, 2020 by the World Health Organization (WHO). 

Chart of new COVID daily COVID cases.

To date, more than 554,000 people have died from the pandemic in the United States, as reported by the CDC, which also states that grief is common following a traumatic event, such as COVID-19. 

Dalmacito Cordero, writing for the Journal of Public Health, writes that people should join in an active battle against COVID-19 by joining a support group, among other strategies for coping.  

To that end, a group called “Good Grief! Let’s Talk: Dealing with Loss” was created by the college this semester to help DCCC students cope with any losses they have experienced as a result of the pandemic. 

The group, according to Griffith, started as a collaboration between counselors and the interim dean, Eileen Haase, at the Career and Counseling Center.

According to Griffith, the scheduled group meetings were slated to begin towards the end of the fall 2020 semester. However, Griffith says that the initial timeline was pushed back. 

“With further planning, it was decided that the group needed additional planning and preparation,” said Griffith, adding that the group’s start was delayed to this semester, allowing more time to get the group organized. 

The group, which meets on Wednesdays, has run several sessions already this semester. 

Lauren Grove, a senior adjunct counselor at DCCC, said the purpose of the group is to provide students with an opportunity to chat with each other about shared experiences and assist them during any isolation resulting from Covid-19 safety protocols. 

Grove added that any loss that a student has experienced is acceptable for discussion in the group. “We are grieving all types of things,” she explained. 

According to Grove, people have various forms of grief, including traditional grief, ambiguous grief, loss of job/income due to COVID-19, loss of daily routines, and much more. 

 “[We want to] provide a safe space for students to come together,” said first-year DCCC counselor Renée Council, adding that a traumatic event, like the pandemic, can overwhelm the brain and one’s ability to cope. 

According to Council, brain fog can be one result of feeling overwhelmed. Council also stated that people might have trouble concentrating and doing things they did easily pre-pandemic. 

Because of the pandemic, Council mentioned that she had to begin her counselor role in a virtual format.

“It has been an interesting experience,” she said, adding that she and fellow counselors have had to counsel students for the past year while going through the pandemic themselves. 

“It’s a humbling position to be in – having people come to you for assurance and answers that you may not always have,” said Council, who acknowledged that no one knew how long the pandemic would last, and that people were getting tired of it. 

 “The concept of pandemic fatigue is real,” she said. 

According to Council, examples of pandemic fatigue include people no longer following mask-wearing rules, large groups of people gathering in a small place, and people feeling more alone. 

Nurse Felicia Nemick wheels an empty bed out of a room before moving another patient into it in a COVID-19 intensive care unit at Temple University Hospital’s Boyer Pavilion in North Philadelphia on April 7, 2020. (Tim Tai/The Philadelphia Inquirer/TNS).

Erica Reeves, an educational advisor at DCCC, believes students should be aware of how they are feeling during the pandemic. 

“Check your self-care,” Reeves recommended. “Check in with yourself.”

One way to take care of oneself during the pandemic, according to the CDC, is taking breaks. Activities that the CDC recommends for breaks include yoga, music, gardening, or even some new hobbies. 

In terms of self-care, Reeves suggested that students focus on things that they can control. “Self-care are the conscious acts that you take to promote your well-being,” she said, such as walking, coloring, relaxing, and exercising. 

“Time you can take for yourself to promote your overall well-being is practicing self-care.”

– Erica Reeves

DCCC counselor Robert Wrease, Jr., also cautioned students to wait things out. 

“Be patient with yourself,” said Wrease, who recognizes that students have plenty of things to juggle during the pandemic. “Students are trying to balance, life, and work.”

Today, Griffith is adjusting to the new normal that the COVID-19 pandemic has brought on. 

Griffith says that her regular self-care protocols and routines help her get through unprecedented times like this. She cited examples of her family, dogs, and being outdoors with nature as things that help her keep some sense of normal. 

Still, Griffith admits that although she is ready to return to face-to-face meetings and working in person, there will be an adjustment period. “I have gotten very accustomed to working from home, so I will certainly feel stress upon re-entering life,” Griffith said.

Meanwhile, the pandemic has forced Griffith to create a “faux commute” in her head. 

“I have a routine I do after work, which signals to my brain that work is over,” Griffith said. After she completes work for a particular day, she puts her computer aside, clears her desk, and goes to a kitchen for a drink and snack. 

Griffith offered a final assessment of what the pandemic has taught her: “What I have learned is the importance of finding ways to anchor myself amidst the uncertainty of stormy times.” 

Contact Tamir Moore at communitarian@mail.dccc.edu

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