TEMPE, AZ — Following 2020, this year was another tough year for many people navigating the pandemic, especially those who lost a friend or family member to COVID-19.
As we look ahead to 2022, Dr. Joanne Cacciatore, an associate professor at Arizona State University's School of Social Work, said it's important for people to realize that we're in an unprecedented time when it comes to loss, but that there is hope to look forward to in the new year.
"There's a lot of fear everywhere," she said.
"I think at a global level in an unprecedented way in recent history, we've been confronted with the real terror of mortality," she said.
To cope with that pain, she teaches the so-called four "Rs" — Remember, Ritualize, Reach out, and Recharge.
"It's a matter of leaving their photographs up. It's a matter of invoking their presence at the holiday dinner table. It's about telling stories about that person. It's about remembering this is a person that was our father, our mother, our grandmother, our grandfather, our beloved child, our brother, our sister, our partner, our spouse," she said.
"This person is no longer here but I'm going to remember this person even when it comes with grief and pain. That's hard to do in a world that doesn't really have space for grief, but it's incredibly important," she said.
"Ritualize can be something more formal where we light a candle at the table and have a moment of silence," she said. [Or] where we go on a hike on his or her favorite hike."
When it comes to reaching out, it means simply reaching out to friends, family, or even spending time with animals.
Dr. Cacciatore works closely with animals and said studies show that animals can sometimes provide better emotional support than humans.
"Animals just show up," she said. "There was no intimation, 'Aren't you feeling better by now,' 'Let's go have a drink,' 'you shouldn't cry anymore.' Animals just show up, they put their head on your lap, and let you cry...And that's a really really beautiful thing."
The last step she said is the one that allows someone to really move forward with their grief.
"Try something new. Take up a new hobby. Take guitar lessons. Go volunteer to feed people that are hungry or at a pet shelter. Go outside, get exercise, get out into the sun. Sweat. Eat clean and play dirty. Take care of this body because this body holds all of our emotions," she said.
Putting the needs of others first is another way to heal, she said.
"I think if there's hope to be had, it's the hope that comes through compassion. And so showing compassion to ourselves, showing compassion to others, and then accepting compassion from others, is essential in getting through this and finding any thread of hope in the new year," she said.
If you think you need professional help, Dr. Cacciatore said to reach out to a professional, someone who understands you and cares.
"They just provide a place to listen deeply and to love them through it," she said. "It's an amazing thing what love, even civic love, can do for other people."
If you are struggling emotionally or know someone who is, help and resources are available. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can be reached at 1-800-273-8255 or dialing 988, or via suicidepreventionlifeline.org. Online chat is also available.