The Covid-19 pandemic has us physically stuck in our homes—but also stuck emotionally. This is especially true for anyone who had a loved one pass in recent months, whether it’s related to Covid-19 or not.
There are no mass gatherings to say goodbye at funeral homes, in places of worship, in cemeteries or in family homes. Many people are stuck figuring out how to move forward in grief when they can’t have a funeral, which often brings closure to a loved one’s death. This can lead to delayed grief if people bottle up their feelings.
“The word I hear most is ‘stuck.’ ‘I’m stuck. I can’t move forward. I can’t plan. I can’t figure out what my life is going to look like going forward,’” said Darcy Bagley, certified grief counselor/bereavement coordinator for hospice with Bayada Home Health Care in Norwich, VT.
The team at Phaneuf Funeral Homes and Crematorium has experienced first-hand the grace and patience families have shown during this time at immediate-family-only services, staggered visitations or private burials. These are not ideal goodbyes.
As a grief counselor, one of main things Darcy tells people is, “don’t isolate.” Today, however, they have no choice but to physically isolate.
“We’re trying to be creative in finding what options are available to keep people connected so they’re not withdrawing,” Darcy said.
Bayada’s grief program for families of hospice patients lasts 13 months, which includes calls and in-person visits from counselors in the days, weeks and months after a patient’s death, as well as support groups. With in-person visits and in-person groups on hold, they’ve shifted to virtual meetings. Darcy and the team at Bayada use Zoom or Facetime for one-on-one talks with grieving family members.
People with loved ones in nursing homes, hospitals and in hospice care facilities also feel stuck, as in-person visits are restricted or impossible. Some nursing facilities only allow staff members inside these days, so Bayada’s hospice team cannot visit patients there, though if a visit is allowed outside a window or door, or possible on the phone, they’re utilizing those options. When Bayada’s hospice caregivers are able to visit, they help patients connect with families online or on the phone. For patients with hearing issues, they help with letter writing.
“Many patients are older, and when they were younger, letter writing was their way of communication. They can write a loved one a letter and we’ll read it to them,” Darcy said. “We’re trying to make sure everyone stays connected however we can.”
Professional caregivers on the front lines are also grieving and feeling stuck without the ability to talk in person with colleagues. Hospice care and bereavement specialists depend on human connections to help patients and deal with the grief associated with their work. Bayada now holds a virtual support group for its team.
“Our staff is well-trained and extremely knowledgeable, but we want them to talk more about their experiences and what they’re feeling, rather than keep it bottled up inside,” Darcy said. “There’s a level of fear around us. We just want to support the staff emotionally. What do they need?”
A first step toward healing from grief is acknowledging it exists instead of pushing it aside and delaying the feelings of grief.
“Know that everyone right now is grieving in one way or another: the loss of a loved one, the loss of independence, the loss of a daily schedule, or the loss of a job. Right now, we do our best to be there for people who need the help the most and help people understand that the feelings of no motivation, not feeling well, feeling tired—a lot of that is grief. Once you can identify that, what can you do to make this better?” Darcy said.
Methods used by hospice care professionals during the pandemic to move forward are simple but effective and can be used by anyone grieving the loss of a loved one or a spouse living in a nursing home where visits aren’t allowed. Don’t isolate inside your head. Use video chat online to stay connected with friends. Make a phone call. Write a letter! Communicate your feelings. Yes, this all sounds obvious, but the current climate creates a great excuse to keep our feelings bottled up to prevent arguments with others at home or being overwhelmed by grief you can’t manage. That won’t promote healing. Once you acknowledge the existence of grief, you can seek some outlets for pushing forward.
Darcy recommends these resources:
- The website of the American Association of Retired Persons has a section on grief and loss, with dozens of articles and resources. Find it here.
- The Dougy Center atThe National Center for Grieving Children & Families has resources for children of all ages dealing with grief. Find it here.
- What’s Your Grief? is a website with resources for professionals, children and adults, including blog posts, podcasts, and how to connect locally.
- Book: “Finding Meaning: The Sixth Stage of Grief” by David Kessler
- Book: “Healing After Loss: Daily Meditations For Working Through Grief” by Martha Whitmore Hickman (“This is great for those looking for short readings each day,” Darcy said.)
Book: “Grief Day By Day: Simple Practices and Daily Guidance for Living with Loss” by Jan Warner