With self-isolation measures in place, and hospital and care home visiting procedures restricting the contact we can have with patients and residents, some people are losing the opportunity to say goodbye to loved ones.
Funerals are also being impacted and limited to small, socially-distanced services, leaving people unable to attend.
Not having these moments is obviously incredibly difficult. Dee Holmes, senior practice consultant at South East Relate, feels they ordinarily bring a level of comfort to those who are about to be bereaved, or grieving.
“I think a lot of people get comfort in starting that process before someone dies - they’re told that’s going to happen and they’re able to be at the bedside, play music, talk to them and hold their hand. I think the lack of the rituals we begin even before death is a problem for people,” she said.
“I think for people who are bereaved, initially, they find solace in sorting out the funeral, people coming around with flowers and wanting to have a cup of tea and give you a hug. I think the fact that’s been put on hold is going to be a problem for people, too,” she said.
Dee feels the lack of these so-called rituals will affect people going through the incredibly difficult process of grief, because in normal times, those conventions help to steady us.
“When you’re bereaved and grieving, your life is topsy turvy. But at the moment, the rest of your life is, too. Normally when something in our life is upset, there are other parts of it that are still the same,” she explained.
That said, there are ways you can try to navigate grief at this time. Here, Dee shares her advice.
Use technology to grieve with others
Grief can make you feel isolated in normal times, so under the circumstances it’s especially important to try to feel connected with others. Technology can facilitate this and help you to grieve collectively, as you would do at a funeral and wake.
“There are ways that people can find to grieve together,” Dee said.
“I went to a virtual funeral, it wasn’t a video call but they’d made a web page and at the time the funeral was starting we had to scroll through, playing songs and the eulogy, with a candle lit. I thought it was a great idea.
“You might be scattered around the country or the globe, and you haven’t been able to go to that funeral [but you can still connect].”
Dee suggests setting a time to collectively remember the person you lost by doing an activity they liked - watching a certain TV programme they always tuned into or having a glass of their favourite tipple. With children, you could spend some time drawing pictures that remind kids of the person who's gone, or make a memory box.
She also advises thinking about how you might be able to get physically together down the line to celebrate your loved one’s life, and focusing on that.
Be aware of complex grief
“Grief is a natural process and we will all go through that, but it’s important to be aware of complex grief,” Dee said, adding that she thinks some people may feel the trauma of losing loved ones without being able to say goodbye as time goes on.
“Grief will affect people differently. The best thing to do is talk about it. Watch out for yourself reaching a place where you can’t move on,” she said.
“The first year is really tough, that’s quite normal for people to find that. If the circumstances are very complex and tragic, that can be harder.
“Grief is not necessarily something that ever lessens. What’s different is that you think about it less - it’s not your first waking thought and the last thing you think about at night. They’re not continually in your thoughts,” she explained.
“Initially we’re so connected to the grief it’s overwhelming and painful, then we learn to pick up normal bits of life, which allows respite from that grief. Gradually, normal life becomes bigger than the grief.
“If the grief being the biggest thing goes on for more than a year, you’re probably in a complex grief situation that you probably need some professional help to deal with,” Dee advised.
Don’t be afraid to ask for the help you need
If you're grieving, it’s important to try to have some element of routine in your life, Dee says, whether that’s a daily walk or your virtual connection with people.
“We all say to people who’ve been bereaved: ‘Let me know if I can help’ and when we’re grieving we always say: ‘Yes I will’ but I think it’s important on both sides to actually be specific in that,” Dee said.
“Say: ‘I’m going to give you a call at 6pm tonight because I know that’s when you have downtime’ or: ‘I’ll send you a text in the morning.’
“For the person who’s bereaved, it's quite important to see the specific things people can do for you and not be afraid to ask. If you’ve got three or four friends don’t be afraid to say: ‘Can you each take it in turns to give me a ring at 8 in the morning – I find waking up in the morning really hard on my own.’ Think about the things you can put in place to help.
Be kind to yourself
Dee feels it’s crucially important to treat yourself with kindness and know that you'll have some better days and some that are harder - and that's okay.
“Accept that you will go through a whole range of emotions in a day, a week, an hour. You will have good days and bad days and it’s important to reach out to people on the bad days as well as the good,” she said.
“Don’t start to feel that you’re a burden to people or that you shouldn’t be feeling like this. Be kind to yourself. I think people often aren’t kind to themselves.”
The counsellor thinks, where possible, re-framing your mindset is helpful, too.
“Try and focus on what you can control and do in a time when there’s a lot we can’t control. We can’t control the funeral and how we’d want it so we’ve got to think about what we can control and what we’re able to help ourselves with.
“Even in a really dark place, try to re-frame the bleakness into a ray of sunshine somewhere.”
Relate is offering webcam, phone and Live Chat counselling. For support and advice about grieving during lockdown, you can visit Relate's website.
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