Grief is tricky at the best of times… but COVID-19 makes it so much more complex and challenging.
To get an expert opinion on ‘Grieving in the time of COVID-19’ I reached out to Lindie Oppermann, Psychologist at Felix & Sage Psychology. In addition to many wonderful thoughts and suggestions, she offered this one which really stood out for me, “It may be helpful to make more space in your heart for a wider definition of what it means to be supported.”
So in addition to her words of wisdom I invite you to read (or perhaps re-read and share) my Blog Post from March 14, 2020 – just over four weeks ago – on a wider definition of some of your options for celebrating a life in the time of COVID-19.
Lindie’s article follows…
Grieving in the time of COVID-19
by Lindie Oppeman, Psychologist, Felix & Sage
Loss is inevitable. As human beings who live and love, it is more a question of when rather than whether we will experience loss. We all will live through loss of childhood, loss of youth, loss of health, loss of a sense of invincibility, maybe loss of a job or career or house, maybe loss of home country or old friends. One of the hardest losses we can experience on our life journey is the loss of a beloved parent, family member, friend or colleague through death. This loss could be sudden and completely unexpected, or long foreseen due to illness – each of these scenarios bring their own challenges.
When we lose someone to death, we often find comfort in age-old rituals or cultural practices which help us along our journey. Even though a funeral or burial ritual could be one of the hardest things to do, it still provides a moment, even a little monument, on our grief journey. We can always remember that day, that moment or that ritual, and always refer back to it. It becomes part of our grief story, and our healing story.
In this time of strict social isolation to curb the spread of the coronavirus many people will still experience loss of a loved one – be it from COVID-19 or other causes. However, for now the gift of public ritual has been taken away from us (temporarily). Funerals, memorial services, wakes, burial rituals, prayers and scattering of ashes have been put on hold, or limited to only a handful of mourners. This can have a huge impact on our experience of our grief journey. During these strange and unprecedented times I would like to share a few ideas or “anchoring points” to guide mourners through their personal journeys.
- Hold your own heart with kindness and gentle hands. Not only are you dealing with a loss, but you are also doing it in the time of COVID-19. This may mean that you will have to do things differently than in normal times.
- Of course, this situation robs you of the comfort of normal cultural rituals… but it also opens the door to finding more intimate, personal and even creative ways of walking your own grief journey. These new ways could add a new and very meaningful layer to mourning and healing.
- Parts of this journey might feel lonelier than in normal times because of the importance of social distancing. It may be helpful to make more space in your heart for a wider definition of what it means to be supported. Even though there would be no hugs or hand-holding from members outside the household, friends can still drop ready-made meals, flowers and cards at the front door. They can still ring or text or video-call. Try and accept these gestures with an open mind, even though you still would rather have wanted that hug.
- Find a meaningful small ritual to perform at home, maybe with the other members of your household. This could be lighting a candle, having an “I remember” hour where people share their special memories of the deceased person, making a special meal, planting a tree or flowering shrub in honour of the loved person, writing a letter to the person and reading it out, or sharing an evening of talking about the ways in which you are grateful for your loved one’s presence and influence in your lives.
- When we return to normal times and you feel that it will be helpful and meaningful to do so, have a postponed public ritual. A memorial service, scattering of ashes ceremony or public tree planting could still be incredibly meaningful, even when done months or years after the person’s passing.
- Know that you are not alone. Many others around the world are struggle with being unable to go through the normal rituals of mourning. Even when you are grieving so very privately, we can know we stand together with others who are going through similar journeys. If you like online chat groups, it may work for you to find (or start!) a support group for people who have to find new ways of creating meaning on their grief journeys.
Maybe, if we imagine ourselves 10 or 20 years into the future, looking back to 2020 and the losses of loved ones in this time, we will find ourselves not filled with bitterness and resentment because of normal cultural rituals that were stolen from us, but grateful for new, deeper, more intimate and connected layers that we have created to grieve deeply, authentically… alone but together.
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For more information on doing dying and death differently or to start thinking about how to handle a death of a loved one before you are overtaken by grief, organise a conversation with Jacqui today.
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Jacqui Chaplin is a Lifetime & End-of-Life Commemoration Specialist (a funeral celebrant among other things) based in Melbourne, Australia. She loves capturing stories about the nature of life and being human, as well as, celebrating and commemorating well lived lives and lives that have ended. Jacqui has a passion for bringing the conversations that many of us find difficult to think about, let alone speak about, out in the open so we can see how our stories, values and beliefs influence our attitudes.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.
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