Isolation Grief: a new multi-layered grief process


When I started my nursing career back in 2001, I was a mature student and yet I felt far from mature when faced with individuals, families and communities during their most emotive times due to death and the grief thereafter.

Just two decades ago there were three types of grief; normal, absent, or delayed. So you were either grieving, not grieving, or due to grieve at some point in the future. It is generally accepted that there are now around seventeen different types of recognised grief processes, and I feel that is set to increase as we find ourselves in these unprecedented times. 

We live in a society where we feel uncomfortable discussing death or grief, but then, in what seemed to be a blink of the eyes, people have had to face their own mortality, and that of colleagues, friends and family, as sudden death descended on to our loved ones and society as a whole. We are rarely ever prepared for death and grief during ‘normal’ times, and especially not so now. There has been a notable shift from feeling immortal, particularly among the young and healthy, into a everyone facing the reality that there are limits on how and when we choose to live and die. As our personal encounter with mortality brings us to observe and transform our own life, we can only but hope that the societal encounter with mortality has the beautiful potential to transform our lives for the greater good of all of us in society.

I have worked in healthcare for over thirty years, from the pharmaceutical field through to chemotherapy nursing, and I have witnessed death and grief in so many different ways, from both a clinical and spiritual perspective. 

Our grief is never like anyone else’s as we are not like anyone else; we all have our own life experiences and beliefs, which influences how we process grief. However, there are some key elements to grief which run through many of the seventeen grief processes. I foresee that through the COVID-19 pandemic, a new type of grief will rise, which I have started referring to as Isolation Grief, and it will be multifaceted in its presentations. 

Firstly, the health of our loved ones is deteriorating, and it is doing so without us by their side when they need us most. The anger, guilt, questioning, and sadness that comes from this loss of control and feeling of hopelessness is enough to trigger a grief response in itself.

And then it often follows the second layer to isolation grief; death itself.

The third aspect of isolation grief, and this comes from those who have positively overcome COVID-19. Survivors have spoken about how they experienced an overwhelming sense of grief during their illness. Not simply from their loss of health and certainty, but due to intense emotions such as despair, sadness, hopelessness and depression. 

The fourth and final part of isolation grief is loss of our sense of normality. When we are unable to go about our ‘normal’ day of work, to socialise as we would have done just a few months ago, to have a reliable income, or to freely travel, we grieve the loss of the life we knew and trusted. So whether you are affected by loss of your normal daily existence, experiencing COVID-19, or from being isolated from a loved one during their most emotive and transitional stage of life, the emotional impact of these life changing events will surely come with huge repercussions and grief symptoms.

We are in a world that has lost so many last goodbyes. So many lasts of many things; closure, words, embraces, and dreams. I have no singular sentence that can comfort a world of broken minds, hearts and lives, but I hope the following words bring a glimmer of light to the darkness that is grief. 

For those of you who were unable to be with your loved ones side when they died, please know they were never alone. Not only would they have our amazing and courageous healthcare professionals with them during each precious last moment here on earth, they would also have had an invisible army of loved ones by their side; we are never truly alone. I know you wanted to be there, and I know they wanted to have you there, but your love and communication goes beyond the limits of a hospital ward, and even this earthly plain. So, allow all your feelings of grief to come, the shock, anger, and sadness, but try to release the guilt. Your heart is already heavy from your loss and need not be burdened more. Breathe in the love of your loved one, and allow it to lighten your load, knowing that some people bring such a bright light to our world, they have the power to continue to light us up even after they have gone. Shine on, beautiful soul.

Good Grief: A Modern Day Approach to Grief Recovery is due out in 2021.

In the meantime you can keep up to date with Shelley and her work via the following links:

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