Bereavement during the COVID-19 pandemic
Dealing with feelings of grief and other emotions is hard for most of us at the best of times but can be especially difficult for some people during this pandemic.
We may be left with no sense of closure if we haven’t been able to say goodbye in person and have not had the ritual of ‘sending off’ our loved one with a proper funeral. Also, we may not have the comfort of family and friends gathering around us and hugging us and giving the support and warmth we need. Even the connection, solace which comes from mutual tears and grief may not be available to us.
Grieving during COVID-19
A lot of people have been unable to attend the funeral or even if they can attend, the number of people can be severely restricted and they may not have been able to feel shared emotions due to social distancing. The normal religious and cultural rituals associated with death which happen both before, during and after a funeral are now restricted, absent or changed almost beyond recognition due to COVID-19. A ceremony can play a key part in helping us go through the journey of bereavement and without it we can feel adrift, robbed and also experience feelings of anger, guilt, sadness, emptiness, incompleteness and many other emotions.
Without the shared gathering before the funeral to prepare us, plus not being able to attend the cremation or burial afterwards, we may feel that the death is remote and unreal. Also, in many cultures the wake is especially important, sharing stories about the dead person with loved ones – laughing and crying together and the sense of an ending in giving them the ‘send off’ that they would want.
Although some people may plan a memorial service after the pandemic is over, this cannot completely replace a funeral. A memorial service in normal times usually occurs when we have had a chance to start processing the more acute feelings of grief and feel more ready to celebrate the life of the person and get comfort from the continuing bonds we feel with that person once we have fully accepted their death.
Counselling can be especially important during this pandemic and in the wake of it afterwards to enable people to release the emotions they would normally be processing around the time of the death and in the following months. Some people in the current situation are getting ‘stuck’ in the process and it can be far harder without support to then get ‘unstuck’ so we can progress on our journey through grief.
Anger during bereavement
Anger is a common, normal response to bereavement. We get angry when we cannot control what is happening to us. It can be one of the most confusing feelings during bereavement and is at the root of many problems in the grieving process. Again, during this time of COVID-19 any anger can be increased due to the circumstances and we may blame others which can distract from the important task of mourning.
If anger is not expressed in a safe way it can be a very damaging emotion, eating away at the bereaved person and destroying relationships vital for overcoming loss.
The media can be so focussed on the tragic loss of life during the pandemic that there is no mention of what it is like for people who may have had an ambivalent relationship with the deceased or where the ‘mourner’ may have a sense of relief by the death of someone who was in pain or had been lost to dementia. So much focus on how we ‘should’ feel can leave us feeling isolated, guilty and reproaching ourselves. Counselling can make us realise that there is no such thing as a ‘wrong’ feeling and that all feelings are acceptable and just by exploring them and talking things through we will resolve the difficult feelings.
Counselling can also help people re-define the relationship they had with the dead person by getting in touch with their feelings and ‘reframing’ their perspective. Counselling can also offer a variety of safe ways to enable clients to get ‘unstuck’ by expressing their feelings and progressing through the journey of grief.