The United States is affected by the “grief pandemic”. These CNN heroes help people navigate it


With nearly half a million lives lost globally since Covid-19, many have felt it in the last few months.

But experts say you don’t have to mourn the death of a loved one to experience feelings of anxiety and loss, which is sadness.

“People have lost routine, freedom of movement through their communities, work and just the ability to connect with family and friends,” said Annette March-Grier, founder Robert’s house, a mourning center in Baltimore, Maryland. “Covid-19 created what we call a loss in utilities. It’s an experience of the collective grief of all.”

For decades, March-Grier and Robinson provided free support that helped thousands of families process the death of a loved one. Both were previously hailed as CNN heroes.

When the pandemic hit the United States, they realized that they needed expertise because their communities were flooded with grief and loss.

Mary Robinson is the founder of the non-profit organization Imagine: A Center for Dealing with Loss.

In addition to relocating their regular online services, both have now expanded their business. March-Grier’s neighbor has been hit hard by the virus, so she is forming a new internet group especially for those who have lost someone due to a pandemic.

Robinson now offers virtual meetings for healthcare professionals and first people on the front lines. Both nonprofits also use social media to educate the public about ways to deal.

Their most important message: It’s okay to feel upset.

“There is a pandemic of grief right now. And it’s so important that we as human beings recognize that and give ourselves permission to grieve,” Robinson said.

In the midst of this atmosphere of unprecedented loss, the traumatic death of George Floyd also provoked a great global reaction.

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“(This) created an explosion … This is now grief over grief,” said March-Grier, who believes people grieve not only for Floyd’s life, but also for the loss of justice represented by his death.

“This man represents the son of every mother … every husband, brother in America,” she said. “(This) gave people a reason to act on that anger they suppressed. … 100% is related to unresolved sadness.”

In response, March-Grier and her team offered healing workshops to their community. Because emotions are great in this difficult time, she and Robinson want people to know that there are steps they can take to manage their feelings in a healthy way and feel better.

“The most important thing you can do is really talk,” Robinson said. “If you have a best friend or a therapist … you need to process all your feelings and get them out. Otherwise, they just stay inside and can cause physical damage, emotional damage.”

“The way we can constructively deal with grief is to do something positive – take action and protest, in a peaceful way. Reaching out to help someone in need,” March-Grier said. “Get a positive meaning so you can grow through this.”

CNN’s Kathleen Toner spoke with Robinson and March-Grier about her work at this time. Below is an edited version of their conversations.

CNN: You said it is useful to find meaning in grief and loss.

Mary Robinson: For me, working in the field of supporting grief was my way of losing my father’s sense. One good thing coming out of this current crisis is that we are now having a global conversation about grief and loss. We all discover, “We as human beings mourn all losses.” And we call that name. Once you get the name for it, then you can do something about it.

Sadness is a double-edged sword. Here's how to put it to good use

Annette March-Grier: Many people who deal with grief do not realize that we have a choice. For example, if you have two people who have experienced the tragic murder of a loved one. One can choose to get angry, take revenge and go down that destructive, dark path. Another might decide that that person’s life meant something bigger and “I’ll do something to keep this life from being in vain.” The latter has a healthier perspective and will live a productive, successful life. So even though George Floyd’s life has been taken away, we can change the laws and change the culture of society from this sense. That’s how we manage and move forward.

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CNN: How did restrictions during the pandemic affect the way people mourn those who died?

March-Grier: People must not grieve and grieve in the usual way. I cannot attend funerals; they cannot have a correctional or family gathering after the service. I can’t follow my usual traditions, be surrounded by family and friends. It’s heartfelt.

Robinson: One of the things we suggest is for people to get creative. Create an online memorial and do the ritual together. Maybe light a candle, read a favorite song, or write down a favorite music of a person who has died. It’s really important to mark those passages of life and mourn together, so we need to find ways to make it over.

CNN: More tips to help people?

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Robinson: The three most important things we can do to take care of ourselves are first: talking and expressing our feelings. Second: exercise – walking, cycling, shooting hoops. Getting physical is so important because it releases kinetic energy in your body and accompanies heavy emotions. And the last is the exercise of mindfulness: take a deep breath, do some meditation.

Another good thing to know is whether you are feeling sad or depressed today, it will pass. Sadness is like time – it comes and goes and we have no control over it.

March-Grier: Try to take care of all three parts of yourself – mentally, physically and spiritually. Try to feed yourself some positive inspiration or wisdom every day. Eat regularly and healthy. Hang out with your pets, especially if you feel alone. Continue your religious practices. Try to maintain your routines as normal as possible. And reach out to family and friends. Don’t allow yourself to be isolated during that time.

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Our motto is, “I take care of you, you take care of me, and we take care of each other.” As human beings, it is so important that we connect with each other. Whenever we go through a crisis, it is not our intention to go through it alone.

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