COLUMN: Grieving in a time of Covid-19

Mental Health Matters

Dr Eddie Murphy

Reporter:

Dr Eddie Murphy

COLUMN: Grieving in a time of Covid-19

I have to admit that I, and very many of my psychology colleagues, are very concerned about what I am calling ‘disruptive grief’ associated with the Covid-19 pandemic.
When someone we care about dies, it can be very distressing for us to accept. There is no right or wrong way to grieve as everyone reacts differently. Normal reactions can include crying, feelings of sadness, anger, guilt, shock, pain, changes in appetite, changes in sleep patterns, and so forth.

Culture and loss
I lived in the UK for 12 years and, I can tell you, the bereavement process is very different there. In Ireland, the influence of our culture and religious traditions has shaped an expectation that when someone dies we have a series of rituals to perform that allow for us to: say our final goodbyes to the deceased; share memories and feelings with others; and to support the family of the deceased.
This includes the wake, funeral mass, cremation/burial ceremony, and the gathering afterwards.
These rituals allow us to channel our grief and process it by paying our respects and cherishing our memories of the person with others who cared for them. It is also a time when those who may not have known the deceased, but care for the bereaved, come to offer support.

Covid-19 has robbed us of our grieving processes
Since the restrictions relating to the current pandemic have come into practice, we are unable to engage in our usual rituals for processing our grief. This can leave us feeling at an even greater loss, as we have been separated from our habitual way of channelling our grief.
I am very conscious that, as I write this, my mother is grieving the loss of her dear neighbour back in her home county in Waterford. She would like to attend a funeral but can’t.
Nevertheless, we will still need to work through our grief. There are other rituals that could be performed during physical distancing that allow us to memorialise our memory of our loved ones.
We can support ourselves and each other in different ways. As with so many facets of life in this pandemic, we find new ways of reaching out.

Your aim is not to recover from loss but to learn to live with loss
Grief is hard. There is no ‘right’ way to grieve, but allowing yourself to feel your feelings is an important part of holding grief. Be kind to yourself in these times. Give yourself the compassion you would show to a friend. Feelings such as sadness, despair or anger are all part of grief.
Maintain your routines if you can. Stick to regular wake up and bedtimes. Keep to regular mealtimes even if these are light meals. Grief is hard on the body so aim to keep well.
Stay connected and try not to become isolated with your grief. This is especially important now. Sharing your feelings and allowing yourself to receive supports by phone, text, email or social media can all help you on this journey.
Use video calls to ‘see’ people. Your loved ones and friends will want to support you.
At home, be yourself with family members. Check in with your children and help them see that expressing sadness and loss is OK, and that expressions of loss can be different for different people.
Engage in your own rituals for your loved ones - be that by planting, artwork, writing or prayer. Find your individual path to feel connected. This will help you and your family. Be patient with yourself. Your aim is not to recover from loss but to learn to live with loss, and this takes time. Find the things that soothe you and make you feel good.

How to support the bereaved during this pandemic
Keep in touch. Stay connected by phone, video calls, email, or text to ensure the person knows that you are available and that you know that grief in this time is especially hard.
Drop a card, a gift, food treat, flowers or any special comfort gift to the grieving person’s gate as a visible sign of support-sign that says ‘I am thinking of you’.
Offer practical help with shopping, technology support or post; and ask what the person might need. Be aware that the person may need space or may want to express anger. Listen. There is no more powerful expression of support to a person than your availability to listen.

Help
The Irish Hospice Foundation (IHF) is a national charity dedicated to all matters relating to dying, death and bereavement in Ireland (www.hospicefoundation.ie.) They do immense work. Their aim is to help Ireland die and grieve well. Their mission is to strive for the best care at the end of life for all. Their vision for Ireland is that no one will face death or bereavement without the care and support they need. If you need help and support, contact the Irish Hospice Foundation on 01 679 3188.