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Resources

Grief, Loss and Bereavement in COVID-19

“It is the peculiar nature of the world to go on spinning no matter what sort of heartbreak is happening”, (Sue Monikkid) – but in these changing times of COVID-19, the world has strangely stopped in some ways.

Written by the Redkite Oncology Social Work team 

Dandelion flower white being blown away by the wind

During this pandemic, the devastation, sadness and isolation is shared globally, and we all ‘get it’ and can understand the impact. But when it comes to bereavement, sadly many people and communities don’t understand.

Grief can be described as a deep and intense sorrow and as tough as it can be it is a natural reaction which helps us work through the losses we experience in life. With COVID-19 comes an unsettling and unsafe feeling with so many unknowns, and in the oncology world those unknowns and uncertainties are sadly a part of life. Although this paper is focusing on grief in bereavement, it can also be applied and transferred to the numerous losses that often go hand in hand throughout the oncology experience.

The current restrictions in place have added another level of grief to bereavement, which can add some extra hard and challenging moments to those who have had a loved one die. A death in the family is devastating enough, but this coupled with the concerns and worries that surround this pandemic have left many bereaved people feeling more isolated. With these running parallel, the impact on how people manage their sorrow can heighten and intensify some of those overwhelming emotions.

And during this time of restrictions and hospitals only allowing a certain number of people in to see their loved ones at any particular time, the circumstances around the death may have added to the trauma and sorrow that one can experience. Grief even without the added heavy blanket of a world pandemic can be challenging, overwhelming and scary so during this time support around you can be so important.

The circumstances of COVID-19 have put restrictions on the support that might usually have been available, such as having family or friends drop by to help with chores, to bring meals, or to help look after other children. Grief is exhausting… it’s hard work… but even during these uncertain times there are some small things that those bereaved have found helpful to manage those often intense feelings of grief and sadness…

There is no right or wrong way to grieve. We are all so different… some of us find it helpful to talk about their grief and for others, they feel like withdrawing from the world.

There are so many expectations that those who are bereaved can feel – and these can come both outwardly and from within. There are no rules in grief, no should or shouldn’t… it’s about doing what you need to do for you, not what others think is the best thing for you.

The pressure to act a certain way, to get on with life or focus on something happy are some of the expectations that people have shared. It’s hard sometimes to not question yourself and your own sanity when the world feels like it has the answer to ‘fix’ your sorrow… and this is one of the challenges – to be able to let go of other people’s ’advice’… and go with what your heart is saying…

Meditation and mindfulness can offer a much-needed break from thinking and have numerous benefits such as providing a sense of calm – being able to control your thoughts when so much is already out of your control. It can also help with sleep by helping to calm the mind. There are many forms of this on the internet and often one that will help with where you are at in the moment.

During this time with varying restrictions it makes it easier to withdraw. Sometimes it’s even too hard to pull down the blankets and get out of bed, but there are ways to keep up those social connections.

Online platforms (Zoom / Goto) and having a chat with a friend or a family member can help and offers that visual sense of connectedness that sometimes you can’t get through a text message or phone call. For some, the phone calls and messages are preferred.

Often it’s just about being able to externalise the feelings so they have a bit of a chance to roam, instead of them all taking refuge inside your heart and mind.

This doesn’t always have to be something big. It can be as simple sometimes as just holding onto the warmth of a hot cup of tea, lighting a candle, listening to some special music that helps lift your spirit – or alternatively that touches you in a way to help some of those tears flow… It’s finding what it is that helps you to take that breath. Trying to keep up the basics of eating a healthy diet along with getting some sleep can also aid in helping your overall wellbeing.

Sometimes just letting those tears flow can help release some of those heavy feelings of sorrow. Other ways people have shared is screaming into a pillow, having a round or two with a punching bag, or exercising to name a few.

That physicality won’t necessarily take away your pain, but it can help by releasing some of those endorphins which can impact our mood in a more positive light.

When it all feels a bit too much just being able to stop that downwards spiral by focusing on different things can sometimes help. This can be looking around… focusing on what you can see, what can you touch, what you can feel, smell and taste… this technique can help you look outwards during times when everything may feel like it’s all bottled up inside, often leading to feelings of distress and anxiety.

Along with some of these ways of managing loss and grief, don’t be afraid to ask for the sort of support that you think might be helpful. Some people have shared that they feel it’s a weakness to want or need help, but it really is a sign of strength – having that courage to pick up the phone and acknowledging that this is tough. We have a lovely team of social workers here at Redkite who are only a phone call or an email away if ever you think it would be helpful to connect.

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