Grieving the loss of a loved one during the coronavirus pandemic

You might be angry, frustrated or upset not to have had the chance to say goodbye in person, or to be there when your loved one passed.

Their death was possibly sudden, so you might feel overwhelmed and unprepared.

Perhaps you feel isolated from your normal support networks, and found the funeral service especially hard given restrictions that may have been in place.

Dealing with the loss of a loved one at any time is distressing. Losing someone during the coronavirus pandemic, whether to COVID-19 or to other causes, will bring additional challenges.

Here, we look at things you can do help cope with grief over the loss of a loved one during this difficult time.

Grief in an uncertain time

It’s normal for feelings of grief over a bereavement to be more pronounced when coupled with the uncertainty caused by an event such as the coronavirus pandemic. They may also be accompanied by feelings of frustration or anger.

According to the Australian Centre for Grief and Bereavement, while it might seem as though the world is preoccupied with other things, this does not mean that your grief is insignificant or that you should put your feelings off for another time.

Former chair of Palliative Care at La Trobe University and renowned expert in death, dying and end-of-life care, Professor Allan Kellehear, explains that “grief is a normal, sorrowful reaction to losing something or someone you love."

"You can't love somebody and then lose them and not feel sorrow, feel grief. So it's normal, it's cross-cultural, it's universal, it's timeless. It won't destroy you."

While everyone’s experience of grief or loss is unique, Professor Kellehear emphasises that it is rarely a one-off experience to be overcome.

"It will come and revisit you. And you'll adjust to it differently when it comes back. You'll feel different about it in one year, in five years and in 20 years. It will be a part of your life because we are talking about attachment, relationships and love."

Saying goodbye in different ways

If you were not able to say goodbye in person, Professor Kellehear suggests you still find a way to farewell the person who has passed, for it is an essential step in coping with grief.

"In your own time, find yourself a quiet place to be alone and say your goodbyes. Say what you wanted to say to them as if they were still there. The where and how don’t really matter because the goodbye is a conversation you have in your heart."

For those with a loved one who looks like they might pass away in hospital, he says, while you may not be able to visit them, there are a lot of things you can still do to say goodbye.

A good place to start is to speak to hospital staff about what is possible.

"You may be able to pass messages on to them or photographs, letters or religious tokens."

"It’s those small things that are a piece of yourself. And as long as there's a piece of yourself, then you are there and that's important for managing your anxiety and your grief,"he says.

Funeral services

Funeral services have been profoundly different during the pandemic. At various times and in different states of Australia, there have been limits on the number of people who can attend, those who do attend must sit apart and catering is not permitted on site.

It’s important to recognise that these are things outside of our control, and equally important to focus on the things that we can control.

For those organising the service, this might mean enquiring about a live stream or recording of the service, arranging a digital guest book, or sharing messages from those not present. It may mean planning for a larger memorial service so friends and family can come together when the pandemic has passed to honour your loved one.

For those unable to attend a funeral service in person, the Australian Centre for Grief and Bereavement has put together some useful suggestions around Funeral Support and Physical Distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic. It can be downloaded here.

Losing a loved one to suicide

Grief in response to suicide can be particularly intense and complicated. Beyond Blue has previously compiled this information about managing your mental health and what to expect in the event that you have lost a loved one to suicide.

If you have lost someone to or during COVID-19:

  1. Remember that grief is a natural and ongoing response to loss. It can be more pronounced in uncertain times such as these. Try not to be afraid of any emotion you experience.
  2. Grieve your way. No-one can tell you how to feel.
  3. Stay connected. Seek support from people you trust .
  4. Say goodbye. Find quiet time to be alone and say goodbye to your loved one in your own way.
  5. Understand that a funeral during COVID-19 may be different. Try to focus on what you can control.
  6. Be prepared. There will be events and moments in future that will trigger your memories and sadness.
  7. Understand that you will heal. In time you will learn to live with your loss, heal and move forward in new and different ways.      

Beyond Blue has previously published a page around grief and loss that may be of further use to you, and this Healthy Families page look at how to speak to your children about loss.

You can connect with other members of the community at our online forum: Grief and loss.

The Australian Centre for Grief and Bereavement’s MyGrief app provides information, tools and resources to support bereaved people.


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