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EDITORIAL: Journeys of grief

"Everybody's grief journey is unique to them. There's no timelines, there's no stages, and there's no expectations. Give yourself time and space to grieve, be open and accepting of your own emotions.
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"Everybody's grief journey is unique to them. There's no timelines, there's no stages, and there's no expectations. Give yourself time and space to grieve, be open and accepting of your own emotions."

– Libby Kostromin, graduate practicum student with Rivers Edge Counselling in St. Albert.

Small losses, big losses and insurmountable ones – the past year of living with COVID-19 has been full of these.

We have all experienced them, whether we lost people close to us, precious time and memories with loved ones, businesses or plans for the future. We grieve these losses, no matter how small.

But the nature of how we grieve has forcibly changed this past year. For many, mourning has been put on hold. While many funerals went ahead in some fashion, most have been held virtually and crowd sizes were strictly controlled. Physical touch – a hug, a hand on the shoulder – has been all but prohibited.

This week, two St. Albertans shared their stories of loss with us for a feature on grief amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Renee Simard lost her mom Wendy recently to COVID-19, then battled the virus – and two weeks of isolation – herself. Between the fear and grief she felt, Renee told the Gazette having people she could call at all hours of the day or night helped get her through. With Wendy's funeral put on hold, she said she still hasn't really had a chance to mourn.

Stories like Renee's remind us that we are not alone in our struggle to grieve in a healthy way at a time when we can't practise our usual traditions. They also remind us of the importance of reaching out and forging connections with one another to help lift us out of the crevasse of grief many of us have tumbled into.

Those connections are more important than ever as much-needed pandemic restrictions drag on and the threat of new COVID-19 variants looms on the horizon. Libby Kostromin, a graduate practicum student with Rivers Edge Counselling, told the Gazette that people need to give themselves time and space to mourn, and to accept the emotions that accompany grief: sadness, anger, sorrow and guilt. For those who know someone who is grieving, reaching out to that person is also important, even if it's difficult or uncomfortable to do.

Around this time every year, the subject of mental health is thrown into the spotlight through initiatives such as Bell Let's Talk Day. This year, the subject is more important than ever as we are kept physically apart.

Grief is a natural and painful process of life, but it is also a process of transformation and growth. That may be difficult to see when you're in the thick of it, but loss and heartbreak can give us a chance to make changes for our own happiness, a chance to break out of the patterns or behaviours we've been stuck in. It's an opportunity to rediscover ourselves as we begin a new chapter in our lives, and that gift alone can be beautiful.