Death during COVID-19

And then it happened to us.

The phone call wasn’t a total surprise, we knew his health was poor. But, as we received the news a beloved family patriarch had passed, my mind instantly started to plan to travel to be with family. It’s what we do, we gather when we grieve. There’s comfort in that.

And then, I remembered; we can’t gather as we always do. 

A whole new wave of grief hit me. I grieve not being able to offer support to his immediate family in the way we’ve always done. We’re going to have to grieve differently this time.

Losing a loved one is hard enough, but grieving in these unprecedented times can feel overwhelming. 

Many of the rituals and activities typically associated with the end of life aren’t possible right now.

In our grief-adverse society, being able to receive and offer support during times of grief has grown a whole lot more complicated. The ability to gather, to connect as family and friends, and offer and receive support during the end-of-life process is so supportive, and this no longer exists.

Grief is lonely, and this loneliness is amplified in our current situation.

As the duration of our need to distance increases, the likelihood of death touching the lives of those within your circle increases. Knowing how we can receive and offer support is important. We may need to get creative.

As a person who supports grieving people, I’ve grown concerned for those who’ve experienced personal losses before and during these times of social distancing. We’ve had to cancel our monthly Celebration of Lives at Hospice House for now, and many funerals are being put on hold until after the pandemic.

This can leave mourners stuck, and experiencing a state of suspended animation, as the normal rituals and practices we engage in after a loss, are more difficult. It leaves caring friends wondering how they can show up and be of support. Many are postponing funerals, while some may be tempted to skip the funeral completely. This may be a lasting mistake.

As grief expert Alan Wolfelt shares, without some form of ceremony following a death, being able to integrate the reality of the passing can be difficult, and we can have “a surreal sense the death didn’t really happen.”  

Postponing a service for too long can keep us stuck, as these times of gathering help us in our process with grief. Having no service easily leaves us feeling lonely and unsupported, or feeling like we haven’t really honoured and acknowledged the importance of the life of our loved one.

Consider holding an informal small ceremony close to the death, and gathering with the closest mourners at social distance. A larger service can then be held when conditions make this possible. It doesn’t have to be once-and-done; holding two services is perfectly reasonable, given the times.

Becoming creative in these times is helpful. While virtual services may not be as satisfying as those held in person, they create an opportunity to gather, and to receive and offer support. Some say they prefer them.

There is even an up-side to virtual services. As one friend reflected, she was grateful to be able to attend a service online, that if held in person, during normal times, would have been impossible. 

People who experienced loss and were grieving prior to COVID-19, may be finding their grief amplified and reactivated. Their fragile ability to cope, prior to the pandemic, may have been stripped away, as newly-constructed activities of life and support networks are affected. Loneliness may be amplified; coping can be diminished.

Reaching out to those who’ve experienced loss, letting them know they’re not alone or forgotten in their grief, is vital right now. 

While emails and texts are one way, there’s more personal connection with a video call, if that’s possible. Consider picking up the phone and being a good listener, or resurrecting the practice of a handwritten note or card. Sending flowers or self-care items is also a lovely thing to do. 

The age-old practice of dropping off food, or helping out with yard work or errands, if you live locally, is a powerful way to let people know they’re not alone. There’s likely still so much you can do to demonstrate your caring, despite the constraints. Again, you might need to be creative.

This is a challenging time for people who are mourning, and for those wanting to offer support and care. With a little creativity, our love and caring can mean the world to those experiencing loss. 

Walter Crockett, you’ve left an indelible mark of goodness on our lives.


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About the Author

Corinne is first a wife, mother, and grandmother, whose eclectic background has created a rich alchemy that serves to inform her perspectives on life.

Corinne, a registered nurse with a master’s degree in Health Science, is a staff minister with the Centre for Spiritual Living Kelowna, and a hospice volunteer. She is an adjunct professor with the school of nursing  at UBC Okanagan, and is currently teaching smartUBC, a unique Mindfulness program offered at UBC, to the public. She is an invited speaker and presenter.

From diverse experience and knowledge, personally and professionally, Corinne has developed an extraordinary passion for helping people to gain a new perspective, awaken, and to recognize that we do not have to be a slave to our thoughts or to life; we are always at a point of change.

Through this column, Corinne blends her insights and research to provide food for the mind and the heart, to encourage an awakening of the power and potential within everyone.

Corinne lives in Kelowna with her husband of 41 years, and can be reached at [email protected].

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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