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Grieving Together… But Apart

It is never easy to lose a loved one, but the Covid-19 pandemic restrictions have heightened the impact on people suffering bereavement and are likely to continue to do so for some time to come.

Many families have not been able to be at their loved one’s side as they passed away, attend the funeral or get the support they need from family and friends.

For those separated by distance or shielding in particular, bereavement has been even more lonely and poignant.

Here, Wathall’s Bereavement Support Coordinator Fay Bloor highlights the importance of understanding the different stages of the grief journey and suggests some ways to cope with bereavement – particularly in these challenging times.

The nature of grief

Grief is a natural and very individual response to any significant loss – bringing with it many different emotions from sadness and loneliness to anger and guilt.

It is vital to allow yourself to feel all the emotions that emerge which may be unpredictable and vary drastically from day to day or even hour to hour.

Grief is as individual as you are. It is unique to each person and depends greatly on what the lost relationship meant to you and your life, as well as the circumstances of the death. Therefore, family members grieving the same person often do so in very different ways and have different needs.

Traumatic loss

If, because of the lockdown regulations, you could not be with someone in their last illness or as they died or that their death was very sudden or unexpected it can greatly complicate the grieving process.

Losing someone in such traumatic circumstances may leave you finding it even more difficult to believe that person is really gone. You are also likely to feel frustrated and angry that the Coronavirus pandemic stole that precious time from you.

No words will take away the pain of that experience but try to focus on the lifetime’s worth of wonderful memories and that they knew it wasn’t by choice that you were not there.

Ambiguous loss

The grief we feel for the loss of a loved one is complicated by the addition of all the non-death losses we are already experiencing which disrupts our assumptive world.

Losing a job or financial security, less social interaction and freedoms as well as disruption to routines and plans during the pandemic has left many feeling frightened, unsafe and helpless.

Grieving a death in addition to these assumptive losses obviously changes, heightens and compounds emotions about losing a loved one and about life in general.

Furthermore, because everyone is so overwhelmed by changes in life, it may feel like your grief is not getting the recognition it usually would and you may not be getting the support that you otherwise would.

Whilst grieving the loss of your loved one, remember to acknowledge and validate the other losses you are also experiencing, as this will help you to make sense of, and work though, your emotional landscape.

Disenfranchised grief

Grief that is not openly acknowledged, validated or publicly observed can become disenfranchised.

It is possible that, with the death toll from the virus being so high, people may feel that their loved one’s death is treated as ‘just another’ statistic or is ‘dismissed’ because it is not Covid-related.

Furthermore, limitations on the numbers of mourners at funerals, may make us feel that the loss is only observed by only immediate family rather than all who knew the person.

It is important to address the feelings that your loss has not been acknowledged or treated with the care it deserves.

Recognising the triggers

All grief has its triggers which prompt memories and feelings from the time around the death to come flooding back.

Triggers can be anything that activates the senses – smells, places, sounds, music, tastes – or even certain people.

When faced with a traumatic loss-trigger in particular, it is common to feel high levels of fear and anxiety as well as physical ‘symptoms’ such as a racing heart, perspiration or a dry mouth. These are common reactions, though like anything in grief, responses to traumatic triggers can vary greatly for each individual.

Whilst the reminders are painful, they are the ways in which your mind tries to make sense of what has happened in order to heal. Avoiding the pain and difficult thoughts will only prolong them. It is difficult, but by processing the thoughts and feelings, over time they will lessen.

Children and grief

It is vitally important that a child’s grief is acknowledged after the loss of someone they loved. They grieve uniquely, just like adults, although they tend to oscillate between feelings slightly faster.

Like all of us, the Coronavirus pandemic has completely turned children’s lives upside down. Routine has gone out of the window, they can’t play with their friends, hug relatives or spend time with them in the ways they normally would, so any feelings of abandonment and frustration may be heightened.

If a child does not have the emotional language to communicate how they are feeling, they may start acting out or behaving differently. If you notice this happening, it may help to talk gently and honestly about what they are thinking or feeling in simplistic terms.

Children may need to take the information in bit by bit. Be honest and open with them both about the loss and your own feelings. Children will follow our example of grief so set a healthy one that encourages talking about feelings and it being alright to cry.

Because children are literal, avoid using euphemisms such as ‘went to sleep’ or ‘lost’ as this may lead to additional fears such as being scared of bedtime, in case they also don’t wake up, or to them looking for a ‘missing’ relative.

Explain clearly but gently what you mean and break down terms that they may not have heard before, such as medical terms or pandemic related vocabulary, so there is no room for confusion.  Don’t assume the child will understand terms that we frequently use around them, check that everything has been clearly understood to avoid unnecessary confusion and fear.

Whilst current guidelines may mean it isn’t possible for the child to attend the funeral service, they can still be involved in choosing certain aspects of it, such as picking a song for the funeral or choosing a floral tribute. If possible, it might help to have the funeral service recorded so you can watch it with the child and answer any questions that they may have about it.

Moving Forwards

Because of the safety regulations, it is likely that you did not get to hold the funeral service you wanted for your loved one. With a restricted number of attendees and limited personal touches, it is natural to feel sad and frustrated by the process.

Therefore, focusing on planning a memorial service or tribute can be a positive way to support your grief journey.

As funeral directors, we are in touch with many organisations who can provide can various types of remembrance services. From a memorial service in church, to tree dedications or even ashes fireworks, we can help you to find a fitting way to help you celebrate your loved one’s life.

Whatever you decide to do, giving yourself and your family the opportunity to mark that person’s death, once free from restrictions, can really help you gain closure and work through your grief.

Recognising and understanding your emotions moving forwards is also very important. Starting a journal logging your feelings and emotions can help you to validate and understand them.  Sharing your feelings by reaching out to friends and family who you can trust for support is also healthy but please remember that everyone grieves differently so respect any differences.

Grief is hard work, it can leave us feelings both emotionally and physically drained, which means it is so very important to look after ourselves on a day to day basis.

Try and re-establish your sleep patterns and keep pen and paper or a journal by your bed to get persistent thoughts out of your head and onto paper, clearing your mind for sleep.

It is common after a loss to either lose your appetite or find yourself comfort eating. Try to maintain a fairly healthy and balanced diet and drink plenty of water to help to control your mood and energy levels.

Creating some form of routine can help restore some sense of control during a stressful and uncertain time, particularly in lockdown which has often disrupted our usual routines.

Be mindful of your feelings and check in with yourself at least twice a day.  Limit exposure to stressful news and negative people in your life to avoid being overwhelmed.

In these difficult times, remember that you are not alone and can reach out to organisations or charities that specialise in bereavement support.

These include Dandelions Bereavement Support which brings together people to share and provide mutual support in their grief journey. If you would like to find out more, please contact me through the contact form on this website.

In conclusion, losing someone we love is never easy, but losing someone during this pandemic is extraordinarily difficult so be patient with yourself along your grief journey.

We never get over losing a loved one, but we do get through it. There will be good and bad days but your love for that person will always remain and you will never forget them. Above all, be kind and gentle with yourself and others.

For more information, advice and guidance on how we can help you with bereavement support, please call Wathall’s on 01332 345268 or fill out our contact form on our Bereavement Support tab.