The coronavirus pandemic has been a cruel and unprecedented time for millions, it has affected almost every part of our lives taking away our liberties and even the lives of our loved ones. Safeguarding against the spread of Covid-19 has even meant that grief has been put on hold, some were even unable to be with their loved ones as they passed. Funerals and ceremonies that are integral to communal grief were limited or in some cases unachievable. This has meant that even the act of grieving and mourning has had to take a new form for many. Even if a loved one did not pass away from coronavirus, other major terminal conditions still affected thousands.
Many people have felt that the pandemic has been a very difficult and distressing time to be bereaved, the process of grieving being altered somewhat and difficult to navigate in these trying times. Andy Langford, clinical director at Cruse Bereavement Care, spoke to Huffington Post saying: “the coronavirus pandemic has made it an incredibly distressing time to be bereaved… for many, their grief will have been put on hold. This can have a profound impact on the grieving process. When you feel you have no control over how you can grieve, and over how you can experience those last moments with someone, that can complicate how you grieve.” Also speaking to Huffington Post, Rebecca Cooper, chief executive of Widowed and Young (WAY) said that the isolating nature of bereavement was exacerbated by lockdown restrictions, stating: “Many of our members who have been widowed during the pandemic have struggled with not being able to see friends and family, many have told us that not being able to have a hug from friends or family is really difficult.”
Cultures and people across the world have different ways of memorializing, mourning and coping with grief and different ways of supporting those who are grieving. The pandemic has been a unique time for the grieving process as many were not able to be with loved ones when they passed away nor been able to support or see friends and family that are struggling with grief. In many ways, the physical presence of support that we can normally give to a grieving person, or receive, has been limited or taken away completely. From acts such as visiting and cuddling a loved one, to taking them a meal, to attending a funeral. Speaking to The Atlantic, Joshua Coleman, a psychologist and a senior fellow at the nonpartisan Council on Contemporary Families, said: ‘humans are wired to reassure and to comfort. In my practice, I’ve seen that it is not only distressing to be deprived of receiving comfort, but similarly to be deprived of the ability to provide comfort. Not being able to directly comfort loved ones who are grieving right now is also painful.’
There is also another interesting notion that for many of us, grief is not limited to the passing of a person we cared for or knew but also due to the life altering effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many are grieving for the life that they have lost or had to change. People are mourning the loss of livelihoods, social contacts, routine, jobs, future plans, important life events such as birthdays, graduations and so forth as all of our lives, dreams and aspirations have been put on hold and replaced with a rather dire struggle. We have also been inundated with horror stories and death tolls, as we fear for the health of ourselves and our friends and family – we have all been presented with stark fragility of human life. Overall, 2020 has been a taxing time for our mental states and wellbeing levels – whether mentally, physically or emotionally.
Speaking to The Atlantic, Pauline Boss, a professor emeritus of family social science at the University of Minnesota and the author of Ambiguous Loss: Learning to Live With Unresolved grief said:
‘The loss of having answers to questions, the loss of a routine, the loss of freedom to go out and do what we please, the loss of being able to hug our loved ones and be with our friends—those are all major losses, and they have to do with the relationship between ourselves and the changing world. These losses are not the ones we have sympathy cards or rituals to deal with, and grief for these losses often gets stuck because there are no supports for it. When nobody notices or acknowledges it, that makes it so much harder for the people who are experiencing it. What we need to do now is name these losses. You can’t cope with something until you have a name for it.’