The spread of coronavirus has impacted many aspects of our everyday lives, with social distancing measures meaning weddings have had to be postponed or cancelled. Ditto concerts and other social gatherings.
While that has been understandably upsetting for those involved, it is the protective rules surrounding funerals that perhaps have had the biggest impact.
How has coronavirus impacted funerals?
The Government has produced guidance on how the coronavirus pandemic has affected funerals. They have introduced measures to try to reduce the spread of COVID-19 which include restricting the number of mourners to be as low as possible to ensure a safe distance of at least 2 metres (6 ft) can be maintained between individuals.
“Alongside the Funeral Director, Chapel Attendant, and funeral staff only the following should attend: members of the person’s household, close family members, or if the above are unable to attend, close friends, attendance of a celebrant of choice, should the bereaved request this,” the guidance reads.
According to Lianna Champ, grief counsellor and author of How to Grieve Like A Champ the main change in our funerals under Coronavirus is the restriction of numbers of attendees with each of the crematoria and cemeteries setting their own numbers from one to a maximum of 15.
“Also, places of worship have been closed which means funerals must take place at the crematorium or cemetery chapel or at the graveside in the case of burial,” she adds. “Funerals are also now arranged over the telephone rather than in person which introduces a clinical element.”
While understandable in the circumstances, the strict measures can have a knock on effect on the grieving process.
“Many people will face the distress of not being able to say goodbye to their loved ones or attend their funeral,” explains Sue Ryder's online bereavement counselling lead.
“Not being able to say goodbye, be with and comfort our loved ones at the end of their lives is an immensely traumatic and distressing experience. It can add or lead to feelings of deep distress, regret, shock, and disbelief, especially if the death was sudden or unexpected.
“The grieving process may be interrupted and harder to work through as people are deprived of one of the most significant and impactful experiences of their lives.”
According to Champ holding funerals in this way presents several challenges.
“Coronavirus has already weakened our position before we have even started to grieve for the loss of someone we love, and now we are denied the physical support, human closeness and instinctive reaching out to touch one another that soothes us in our darkest hours,” she says.
And the funerals themselves are now sadder, more heartbreaking and completely alien to us.
“We can’t rely our usual and expected rituals which help give us a focus through our grief,” she continues.
“To see a person crying inconsolably alone at the funeral is a heartbreaking sight. No-one can approach them, support them or just given them a hug.”
And this can impact the way people handle their grief, effectively forcing them to bury their feelings.
Champ says being denied the physical comfort we need from our family and friends before, during and after a funeral means we must find new ways to unite in our grief and celebrate a loved one’s life.
“Even though it may feel easier to withdraw into ourselves in this time of lockdown and isolation, it is more important than ever that we push ourselves to reach out to one another,” she says.
“It is essential to our wellbeing to find new rituals and ways of respecting and honouring those who have died. We must adapt to this new way of living and being. We must also let it be ok to feel the pain of our grief.
“The Coronavirus cannot take away our love for each other, our hope for recovery and our self care,” she continues. “We just have to discover new ways to express our sadness.”
How to grieve during the coronavirus pandemic
Express your grief
Champ says when you allow yourself the freedom to express your grief - whether through words, music, meditation, art etc, you actually begin to reduce it and this is where we start to heal.
“When we are happy, we want to share our happiness and it should be exactly the same when we are sad,” she explains. “The ability to experience and to share our emotions is all part of being human.” She suggests reaching out to talk about how you feel. “Our mobile phones etc have become a lifeline to our family and friends during these times of pandemic.”
Become part of the virtual funeral
With restricted attendance at funerals and self isolation, you may not be able to actually attend the funeral of someone you love, but you could be there virtually.
“Most funerals are now being live streamed so you can be a witness to the ceremony,” Champ explains. She suggests being a virtual funeral attendee should be given the gravitas and respect it deserves.
“This is an important step in your grieving experience,” she says. “Take time to prepare. Have a candle to light, photographs. Memorialise your surroundings for the person. Dress for the occasion as if you were going to attend in person. Grief isn’t just emotional, it’s physical too and doing these things will help you.”
Reach out post-funeral
If you can’t be present physically, be present emotionally. “Coming together emotionally means that no-one is left alone with their grief and even though we cannot reach to to one another physically we can with our words and our love,” explains Champ. “FaceTime, videos and phone calls bring us closer to the people in our lives.”
Create a new ritual
Champ suggests agreeing a set time with family and friends when you all light a candle at the same time next to a photograph and play a favourite song.
“When we light candles, we come into communion with each other spiritually and we give an energy into the spirit world of the person who has died. We also feel that we have done something constructive and again this helps to let some of the grief go,” she explains.
“In her Easter speech, HM The Queen spoke of the power of light overcoming darkness. And so it is that when we gather in spiritual community and hold someone in the light, we invite a healing power. Creating new rituals also give us a sense of control and calm in the chaos of the world today.”
Practice good self-care
When you’re grieving it is easy to let self-care slip down the to-do list, but it’s vital to look after yourself. Felicity Ward, Online Bereavement Counsellor suggests creating a list of basic needs and ticking them off as you go, or setting a reminder on your phone. “This list could include things like drinking a glass of water, taking medication, brushing your teeth and hair, having a shower, and having something to eat.”
As well as performing some of the rituals we traditionally associate with funerals and grief, Ward suggests trying something creative to ease your sadness. “A jigsaw, painting (free style or by numbers), colouring in, create a memory or hope box, drawing, photography, creating a collage, listening to music, playing an instrument, singing or writing could all help,” she says.
Tune in to a TedTalk
You can find a TedTalk on almost every topic, including great TedTalks on grief, says Ward.
How to support someone who is grieving during lockdown
Felicity Ward has some tips on how to help someone grieving right now.
Don't tell them it will all be okay - it isn't, and it may not be for some time.
Acknowledge that this is a difficult time and ask them how they're genuinely feeling. Follow your friend or family member's lead - sometimes they may want to talk, other times they may not.
Listen, listen and listen some more. Try to resist giving any advice unless specifically asked for it.
Make them laugh - talk about mundane, 'normal', everyday things
Check in with them - people can find it difficult to reach out when grieving.
Send a care package of their favourite things - perhaps a mix of healthy snacks for when they don't feel up for cooking, some self-care bits such as a face mask or new nail polish.
Understand that you cannot make them feel better but you can support them whilst they adjust and work their way through this painful experience. Let them know that you understand it's 'OK not to be OK' at this time.
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