Managing grief in isolation

How to manage your grief during self-isolation

Self-isolation is difficult for everyone, but if you are also grieving following the death of a loved one, these difficulties are likely to be amplified. Grief can be an incredibly isolating experience as it is, and a time when you will need and rely on social contact as a source of support – both in the immediate period following a death and in the longer term.

Being in isolation can reduce physical contact with important support networks, decreasing a family’s usual protective factors and, potentially, having a big impact on people’s mental health. It could be as simple as not having a chance to play football each week or not being able to see and talk to your friends in person.

It’s important to find ways to look after yourself and stay connected to others, during these challenging and unprecedented times. If you are struggling with grief and social isolation, here are a number of ways that may help you to feel less alone, and keep in touch with loved ones:

1. Stay connected with your friends and family

Find ways to stay in contact with your network of friends and family. This could be as simple as a daily telephone call or a weekly video call. Try to speak to someone regularly. It might be worth setting something up weekly so you know you have that contact to look forward to.

There are many apps which can help facilitate this such as House Party, Zoom, Skype to name but a few. Keeping connected with friends at this difficult time is vital to stop you feeling isolated.

You may even want to set up your own support group with your friends and family to help you get through this difficult time. Without being close to you, friends and family may find it harder to tell how you are really feeling – and so may believe you when you say “I’m fine” and stick to chatting about what everyone is doing. It’s hard to say “I’m feeling sad” or “I miss XXX” but it will help friends know how to support you.

Sometimes, it’s easier to have a focus for online group meet-ups; for example you could suggest everyone brings to the webcam something from a favourite holiday (funny souvenir, horrible hat, wonky toy donkey) and you could share a time you shared with the person who died.

Make plans for the future to meet up with friends or family when isolation is over. This will give you something to look forward to and a focus for the future.

2. Feel connected to nature

Another simple way to feel less isolated is to connect with nature. This could be a walk/run/bike ride out in the fresh air for your daily exercise.

Nature is ever changing and now, as we go into spring, there is something new to see each day. This can be poignant if it makes you very aware of the fact that someone has died and can’t share this spring with you. You might like to take a notebook or your phone to capture either in words or photos the changing season. You could imagine you were sharing what you see with the person; what was their favourite flower? Favourite colour?

3. Capture memories

With everything else that is going on, it can be difficult to find time to think about the person who died. If you have a memory box, now might be the time to think about the person who died. If you have a memory box, now might be the time to have a look through it. And if not, now might be the time to put one together.

Or you could put together some questions to email to family and friends about the person who died, for example:

  • What was the silliest/funniest thing [name] did?
  • What was the kindest thing [name] did?
  • What were they especially good at? (It could be something practical or a special quality they possessed)
  • What was their favourite TV programme/film/book?

4. Express gratitude

Now might be a good time to say thank you to someone who has helped you over the difficult times. This could be in the form of a letter or a phone call. It might be a letter you never sent, or it could be one that you would like to write to someone who has died.

Research has shown that grateful people tend to experience greater positive emotions, it can be incredibly powerful to write down how much gratitude you have for someone for something they have done for you in the past.

  • The letter doesn’t have to be too long – try for around 300 words.
  • Be specific. Try to think of any thoughts or feelings you’ve had but never expressed to the individual. Explain how they have made an impact on your life.
  • Read the letter out loud to them, over the phone or via video call. It will add a personal touch and add to the sincerity.
  • You may want to plan time for catching up after reading the letter. Gratitude can be a natural conversation starter into deeper topics or areas of life.

5. Exercise

To feel more connected to others, think about ways that you could connect through exercise. This could be via an online class. Many personal trainers are now offering their classes online during lockdown, so you still feel part of a class but from your own home. For example, Joe Wicks is offering a free PE class every morning at 9.00am via his YouTube Channel: The Body Coach.

Moving can make us feel a little lighter in spirit so maybe put on some music and dance. You could choose a track that the person who died might have also danced to?

You are not alone

The key message here is that you are not alone. Yes, we are temporarily separated from each other physically, but it is possible – and important – to remain socially and emotionally connected.

Winston’s Wish provides support to grieving children, young people and their families all over the UK, and we are here for you at this challenging time. Our Freephone National Helpline is continuing to operate and can offer guidance, support and information for bereaved families and the professionals caring for them – call 08088 020 021.

You can also email us on or use our online chat. Our Winston’s Wish Crisis Messenger is available 24/7 for anyone needing urgent support in a crisis. Text WW to 85258.

For further information, advice and guidance on supporting bereaved children and young people during the coronavirus outbreak click here.

Please note: To protect our staff, our Helpline is currently operating a remote service, we ask that you leave a message on our answering machine and one of our experienced practitioners will call you back.

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