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Grieving During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Grieving During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Apr 10, 2020

Center for Grief & Loss, Counseling Services, Family Counseling

Life right now is hard in so many ways.  The current pandemic sweeping through the country and the world is impacting us all.  From kids no longer going to school and parents working from home while also managing their child’s distance learning, to those who live alone no longer being able to get together and socialize.  With the many dramatic changes we are all experiencing, the emotional toll is significant.  There are losses inherent in each of these changes we are experiencing.  To name just a few: loss of community at work/school/gym/church/college; loss of a job which translates to loss of finances and loss of identity; loss of the sense of safety and predictability in the world that many of us may have felt prior to the onset of the pandemic.  The range of stressors and changes we are each encountering in our daily lives in this age of COVID-19 is truly incredible and like nothing any of us have ever experienced before.

For those who are also coping with the loss of a loved one right now, the pain and loss is only amplified by the current pandemic.  The restrictions on social gatherings in order to “flatten the curve” of COVID-19 transmission mean that funerals and other services following a death are either limited to a very small group of immediate family members or not allowed at all. Social distancing also means that those who are grieving cannot receive the physical showing of love and support that are so often offered in the days and weeks following a death.

The traditions and rituals we have as a culture, within a faith or spiritual community, and within a family offer some relief in the days after a death by offering structure and tasks as we plan and prepare for a service.  The service itself offers a formal opportunity to acknowledge who and what we’ve lost and receive support and care from others in our community.  Without the opportunity to carry out these traditions and rituals as it is typically done due to the current pandemic, those who are bereaved may be left holding their breath, unsure of what comes next and when. 

In lieu of these typical opportunities to find connection, support, and tasks of what “to do” during acute grief, we would like to share a few ideas of other ways of finding acknowledgement, connection, and structure during this difficult time:

  • Invite friends, family, colleagues and others who knew the deceased to share memories about the loved one they lost, either in writing or through a video.
  • Set up a Facebook page or other social media for people to share memories, reflections and photos.
  • Make the photo boards that will at some point be used at a service, once that is again an option.
  • Make virtual photo boards to share.
  • Light a candle in memory of your loved one and take a deep breath and moment to reflect.  This can be done alone, with others in your household, or virtually via video chat.
  • Create your own ritual for connecting with your loved one.
  • Be gentle with yourself.  Grief is hard work.  Grieving in the context of all the added complications of this pandemic can be overwhelming.  Judgement and harshness with yourself for how you are handling it all only amplifies your suffering.
  • Plan for a virtual memorial service, if that is an option with a local funeral home or church.
  • Plan an in-person service for the future, even though the timeline is unknown.
  • Make a donation to a charity or cause in honor of your loved one. 
  • Plant a tree or bush in honor of you loved one.
  • Prepare and enjoy favorite food(s) of your loved one.
  • Create a book with photos and/or writing about the life of your loved one.
  • Listen to your loved one’s favorite music
  • Write in a journal – a place to name your losses, identify your feelings, and get grounded in yourself.
  • Reach out for more support when needed!  Therapists and other community supports for the grieving are offering virtual therapy sessions, support groups, and more. Crisis lines and text support are available. Many insurance companies are now covering virtual (tele-health) therapy sessions, and other crisis supports are free of charge. 

The current pandemic also restricts the ways in which friends and family are able to communicate support and care to the bereaved, such as dropping off meals, offerings of physical affection, and attending a memorial service.  In a time where there are not formal services, we must find ways to initiate this offering of support.  One thing that we know about grief is that we should not grieve alone.  Opportunities for safe and supportive connection are necessary for the bereaved to navigate this very painful and difficult time.  Here are some suggestions for how loved ones might offer support and connection to the bereaved:

  • Send a card right away instead of waiting for service or funeral.
  • Send an email/text/message of acknowledgement and sympathy to someone you may not have regular connection with but know has experienced a loss.
  • Share with the bereaved when you are reminded of the deceased, and say the name of the deceased. 
  • Be proactive in asking bereaved people directly how they can best be supported in light of the public health restrictions.
  • Make a donation to memorial funds immediately rather than waiting for a memorial service.
  • Check in regularly with grieving friends and family now and throughout the next several months.
  • Respond to requests to share memories or photos of deceased.
  • Send flowers to the home of the bereaved.
  • Arrange for food to be delivered form a restaurant or grocery store.
  • Do yard work for the grieving family.
  • Offer to pick up prescription medications, groceries, or do other errands.

If you are looking for grief support during this time, FamilyMeans Center for Grief & Loss can help. Our specialized therapists can work with you via tele-health to support your feelings and help you through this difficult time. Contact us today at 651-641-0177 or by visiting GriefLoss.org.

Written by Molly Ruggles, Psy. D., L.P FamilyMeans Assistant Clinical Director