Grieving through Lock-down
Maybe it is you that’s suffered a loss in the last few months, maybe you are facing one or maybe you know someone close to you who is struggling with their own grief.
Losing someone through the pandemic is different to grief outside of Covid-19 for a number of reasons and I’d like to share some of them today in order to help you address either your own grief or someone else’s that you may be trying to support.
Let’s consider the complexities together:
In a lot of cases it will be a sudden death that is experienced- this means there has been no preparation, no addressing of death and what that means for you and your family and no consideration of what a fitting goodbye might look like. In many cases there won’t have been wills in place or instructions for after death. It creates chaos, panic and uncertainty.
There may have been a level of unexpected trauma because of the way Covid-19 is forcing us to live our lives right now, there will have been limited access to the loved one, a loss of physicality so if you were a tactile person or not very demonstrative at all- not being able to hug or touch that person or hold their hand will have added to the pain you were and are experiencing. It can give rise to a sense that you could have done more- but in doing so you are failing to recognise you were actually doing all you could in the circumstances.
Watching someone in intensive care can appear mechanistic and violent depending on what you yourself witnessed or were told. This will impact on the patient, you and your family because it plays into our notions of what is an ‘appropriate’ death and how someone ‘deserves’ to part the earth. There will have been little control or decision involved and much will have been decided by the hospital and their current procedures in place.
Your final goodbye might be over technology or through a screen, meaning that it was impersonal in nature and may not reflect how you would generally behave with that person. Goodbye in PPE may have added to the unreality of the situation and in dehumanising the person, leading to detached loss and in some cases a ‘cyberised’ death if you were saying goodbye over video call. We aren’t used to saying goodbye in this way and whilst there are pros and cons to this, it’s likely not been considered before and we are at odds with how we had to do it and why we had to do it.
It’s likely that your support network was or is reduced due to isolation or social distancing restrictions, especially if you were/are in the shielding category. Talking things through in person and also sharing touch and emotions has been restricted so you couldn’t offer touch to the loved one and nor can those close to you offer touch back; this can compound feelings of loneliness.
If you’ve shielded or self-isolated then it is likely that you were denied a shared mourning, of grieving with relatives and friends. It may also be the case that you were unable to be graveside or attend a funeral/ cremation. Having been denied a goodbye at the passing as well as at the funeral will further add to distress, guilt and perhaps other people not fully understanding how you feel or are experiencing grief.
Grief can be suspended because a return to normal isn’t possible in this situation; the actual death may have been quite alien to you due to the lack of being present, or being present behind a screen or at a distance. The rest of society is also not as it was, so you aren’t surrounded by stability in the wider world; it mirrors the chaos in your mind right now.
Others things to consider are the:
- Alienation to the person and to yourself and the distortion of how we view death ‘should’ happen.
- You and your loved one have been dis-empowered by Covid-19, these choices were made FOR you, not BY you.
- Basic freedoms removed in how you say goodbye, bury and mourn; these restrictions are all new.
- Loss of your faith’s ritual rites for funeral and burial will impact on your relationship with your religion, hopes for that person’s afterlife if that is your belief or their onward journey. These are considered rights and these have been interrupted and interfered with.
- The level of your grief is often equal to the level of love that you felt for that person- don’t assume the grief level based on life role that person appeared to occupy in that person’s life.
If you take these things into consideration either for yourself or if you want to support someone else then it is easier to see or part-understand why a death during Covid or by Covid will have a level of trauma attached to it. Even having awareness of just a few of these things can help make conversations that bit more human, real and comforting. If it’s you grieving then just try to connect with all the above and weigh up the enormity of the situation you’ve just experienced…it’s huge. You won’t ‘feel better’ for some time and you shouldn’t feel compelled to force that for anyone, even yourself. It wasn’t just ‘a death,’ it was a loss of many aspects all at the same time.
I often get asked what’s the best way to support those with grief and there is no definite check list that fits everyone. What I would strongly advocate is admitting you don’t know what they are going through, you can’t, and although it can sound helpful, it can make a person feel even more disconnected in the conversation. Be real, be honest, admit you can’t solve it for them. More often than not people aren’t looking for answers and solutions they just want to be heard and have a voice for their thoughts and feelings if they are able to connect to them.
If people are non-verbal and very emotional then accept that is where they are right now. If you suspect it’s gone on for a number of months (6+) and you have noticed that day to day functioning has decreased then there may be underlying mental health concerns at play. This isn’t always the case so please don’t assume, just remain aware. Grief is not a mental illness. It’s a natural way to reflect upon and process the loss of someone you cared about.
If you think you’d benefit from having a non-judgemental conversation about how you feel with regards to grief, death and bereavement then I’ll be offering you all the above and working with you to find ways, specific to you, that can help you get some structure back in place, and build on your foundations. I’m not here to offer cliques about time; I am here to help you find ways to carry on living your life, whilst not forgetting the person no longer with you.