Utah doctor offers ways to cope with holidays after losing a loved one to COVID-19

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SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (ABC4) – As we head into the holiday season, friends and family will be missing loved ones who died of COVID-19. How do deaths compare to last year at this time? And what are ways people can cope with such a loss?

The Utah Department of Health reports 17 new deaths Friday.

This adds to the more than 3,400 Utahns who have lost their lives to the virus since the start of the pandemic.

State data shows coronavirus deaths were on the rise at this time last year and began to fall in early spring. However, the death toll began to climb once again in late summer.

“To know that the reality is we’re still facing this and our hospitals are still full, and our families are being impacted by COVID is just heartbreaking,” said Dr. Travis Mickelson, the medical director of mental health integration of Intermountain Healthcare.

After losing a loved one, Dr. Mickelson said the holidays can be a hard time of year for people.

“This year, many of us are going to be sitting down to Thanksgiving dinner with our families during the holidays and there’s going to be someone missing,” he said.

He hopes those experiencing grief after the loss of a loved one can allow themselves to feel their emotions.

“Experiencing grief and that loss and the sadness that comes with that, we can’t ignore it, we can’t act like it’s not there,” Dr. Mickelson said.

Dr. Mickelson said people who experience prolonged grief can have an impact on their health.

“It can have detrimental effects on their sleep, on their appetite. It can lead to mood irritability and all of these issues can affect how we perform and function, most importantly at home with our loved ones and our friends,” he said.

Dr. Mickelson also said it’s important for friends and family to be a listening ear and a support to those who’ve experienced such a great loss.  

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