Grieving without hugging

A close friend of mine is in the early days of processing the recent, unexpected loss of a dear friend. We’re in touch every day and I’m honoured that she’s chosen to share her mourning process with me as it unfolds. I’m used to her being a highly articulate, poetic woman with a well refined emotional vocabulary, but the other day she simply said to me: ‘I’m grieving without hugging’.


These four words have stayed with me. The simplicity of her words powerfully conveyed the additional cruel layer that being bereaved during a pandemic wraps around loss.

I’ve done my best to offer her loving support; but without being able to see her, let alone hug her, it can feel like we’re communicating from either end of a very long tube; the experience feels muffled and unsatisfactory.

So many people are grieving right now, some directly as a result of the virus, others through the normal ebbs and flows of life, but all are united in the isolatory-nature of grieving within the constraints of a global emergency.

So many of our well-worn rituals and go-to places of support are either unavailable to us or much changed leaving us somewhat frozen in certain aspects of our grief process.

What support can we offer in the short term? 

As we all know, the virus doesn’t care, it has no compassion, no integrity to bypass those facing acute hardships, so how can we hug without hugging? How can we drop round a casserole when we can’t travel? There are no perfect replacements but there are small acts of support we can offer, which add up, and that is better than nothing.

Checking in more regularly with a friend and asking how they’re doing that day is a start, really ask - how are they sleeping, eating, how heavy is their heart that day, what do they need, what plans do they have for the day ahead?

Grief is exhausting. I’ve found phone calls to be less draining than video calls so suggesting a switch to a good old fashioned call might create a more satisfying connection and conserve the griever’s reduced energy reserves.

Royal Mail is continuing to do a grand job so posting a little note or a card or small gift would bring a lift to someone’s day - we’re all craving novelty within the rinse-and-repeat nature of lockdown, so small gestures like these are magnified.

Arrange to eat a meal together online… having said what I just said about video calling (!) I have done virtual dinner meet ups where we sit down to a simple meal (could even be beans on toast) and we chat while eating. If you squint it’s allllllmost like meeting up for a meal - albeit a waiterless, chefless meal where you wash up.

We’ve all become adept at finding creative work-arounds to help meet some of our emotional and mental health needs so you don’t need more ideas from me, but I’d love to hear of ways you’ve given or received meaningful support so I can share them here.

Man on phone

How can we help in the longer term? 

We don’t yet know what the long term impact will be of experiencing loss and grief during these strange times but when the familiar rituals of grief and support are interrupted at the time of the loss, this all still needs to be worked through at some point. We still need our grief to be witnessed, our shock mirrored back to us and our feelings to be shared, even if it’s months or years later.

The grief ship won’t have sailed away just because time has passed, it may just be held in port until the waters feel safe enough to venture out. So while we can only do so much to support our loved ones right now, what we can do is remember to step forward and offer all those missed acts of care once life opens up enough to allow it.

Be sure to hold a more emotionally intimate space for your grieving loved ones at whatever point that’s possible. Offer those unspent hugs with abandon. Be there to welcome their potentially delayed grieving process with open arms, listen deeply, make food, take their kids for a few hours… your care will be just as needed as if the loss happened yesterday. We humans are good at squashing feelings down when we need to but at some point those raw hearts will need some tender care.

I have hope that even though we don’t quite yet know when we’ll see an end to this challenging time, we can bring all we’ve learned into the next chapter.  All the resilience we’ve found, all the gestures of love, the sense of community, the walks in nature, the losses and the marrow-deep longing for closeness can all inform what we want to bring to our relationships.

Even if all we bring into the re-opened world is a little more kindness, this alone is a great foundation for rebuilding whatever needs to be rebuilt.

Go gently, stay well, be kind and please reach out for help if you need it.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Hassocks BN6 & High Wycombe HP12
Written by Michaela Murphy, PgDip, MBACP Relationship Counselling, Couples & Individuals
Hassocks BN6 & High Wycombe HP12

Michaela is an experienced, qualified Relationship Therapist, offering collaborative and dynamic relationship counselling to couples and individuals. She also has a particular interest in bereavement and it's impact on relationships.
Although working online currently, she is based close to the foothills of the beautiful South Downs.

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