United in grief: The pandemic has changed how we talk about death
A great many of us have suffered loss since the onset of the pandemic and learning to deal with the events of the last year has made one in five adults feel more comfortable talking about grief.
The coronavirus crisis seems to have changed the nation’s attitude towards death, with around 47% of adults in the UK now feeling more compassionate towards others who are dealing with grief.
The research, of just under 2,500 adults conducted by YouGov and commissioned by Co-op Funeralcare, found that 22% of those surveyed feel more comfortable talking about grief, while the pandemic encouraged 54% of respondents to think about their own mortality.
The findings come after experts issued warnings of a “grief pandemic”, estimating that 5.2 million adults in the UK experienced a bereavement during the first two months of the third lockdown alone.
We may now feel more comfortable openly talking about grief, however, many mourners also revealed their grieving process has been negatively affected by coronavirus restrictions.
Thankfully, 17 May will see the cap on numbers allowed to attend funerals increased in England.
Commenting on the findings Sam Tyrer, managing director of Co-op Funeralcare, said: “During Mental Health Awareness Week, it’s important that we take time to reflect on the devastating impact the tragic events of the past year have had on the nation.
“Communities have experienced loss on a previously unimaginable scale, so it is crucial for us to ensure adequate support is available as society begins to enter a new normality.”
What the pandemic has taught us about grief
While many have experienced the death of a loved one during the pandemic, Lianna Champ, grief expert, counsellor and author of How to Grieve Like A Champ points out that even those who haven't lost a friend or relative may currently be grieving.
"Grief is an emotional response we experience when we suffer any kind of loss - our job, our health, divorce, security etc," she explains.
"In fact, we grieve when we experience change of any kind in our lives."
Champ says the pandemic has opened us up to a conscious awareness of our losses and says a collective ‘being in this together’ has made talking about our feelings easier.
"Grief is an incredibly personal experience and that is what makes it so isolating, because no-one really knows how we feel," she explains.
"Usually, we experience our losses on our own or with a small number of people close to us, and so we tend to withhold our sadness and find it easier to show the world that we are strong.
"The pandemic has brought up feelings of insecurity, anxiety and even depression. There is a sense of loss of control too and because we are all experiencing the pandemic, it’s easier to share our feelings about how it has made us feel."
Watch: How the Queen is grieving Prince Philip's death.
Experts hope this will keep the doors open to sharing our losses and talking about death when we experience it in the future.
"We don’t need to justify what we feel," Champ adds. "We just need to identify and accept what we are feeling."
Champ says grief affects us on every level - emotionally, physically spiritually and mentally.
"We can no more control it than predict it," she explains. "If you or someone close to you is grieving, it’s important to understand that this will impact every area of your life and you won’t feel ‘normal’ again for some time.
"You need to assimilate your loss, to absorb the shock waves and to go through your own personal journey to healing."
How to support someone who is grieving
Don't make it about you
Try not to talk about how you felt in a similar situation. "Even though this is usually well-meant, it can minimise the importance of the feelings of the person suffering the most recent loss and can make them withdraw," says Champ.
Try not to change how they're feeling
Grief needs expression, just as happiness does. "We have to experience our grief, talk about it and share it to help reduce the weight of it," Champ says. "Grievers don’t need to be agreed with or understood.
"They just need you to listen and accept their words without analysing or justifying them.
"When a griever is talking about how they are feeling, they are making a statement. They don’t need to be fixed, just listened to. Listening is one of the most important things you can do to help."
Offer practical help
"Try not to say 'Let me know if you need anything'. They won’t," says Champ.
Instead she suggests trying to put your words into action in a gentle way, by offering a specific time for dog walking, odd jobs etc.
"'I’d like to cook a casserole for you. Is Wednesday a good day for you?' or 'I’m shopping on Saturday, what can I get for you?'," Champ advises asking.
"These practical offers are wonderful for a griever. Practical help can say so much more than words and can take the pressure off worrying about saying the wrong thing," she adds.
Discuss shared memories
Don’t be afraid to mention the name of the person who has died. "Even though there may be tears, that’s okay," says Champ.
"Mentioning their name will open up a conversation and when we lose ourselves in memory we often find laughter. Sharing our memories is where healing begins."
Be in for the long haul
Don’t just be there in the early days and disappear when it looks as if life has returned to normal. "It hasn’t. Keep in touch, keep talking and keep sharing."
Additional reporting PA.