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Bereavement is difficult at the best of times. Whether sudden and unexpected, or something you’ve had time to prepare for, the loss of a loved one and the grief that comes with it are hard to bear. And when you lose someone during a time of global crisis, it’s even harder to deal with.
The coronavirus outbreak has caught us all off-guard rather, and has made lots of significant changes to the way we live our lives. In some ways, most us are grieving already—the loss of freedoms and the unpredictability of the future are heavy emotional burdens. And should you be dealing with a death at the same time—it's going to be tough.
Here, we’ll detail a few ways to ease the pain of bereavement during the COVID-19 pandemic—both for yourself and, should you be a manager/employer, for people in your care.
How do I cope with grief in isolation?
Even when surrounded by family and friends, grief can be an intensely isolating experience. When in actual isolation, it’s even harder. Talking to, and being around, those who matter to you eases the pain of loss for many.
While you may feel totally alone, be assured that you are not. It’s not quite the same, but keeping in touch with people via phone, text and video call can be a great help—even if you don’t have anything to say. Just knowing that people are out there, and that they care, can help with grief immeasurably.
Some days will be easier than others. This is okay, and totally normal—on days where it all feels overwhelming, don’t force yourself or feel guilt for needing some time to yourself. Again, reach out to people however you can.
Keep to a regular routine. If you’re currently working from home, keep it up if possible. If you’re currently furloughed or out of work, set morning alarms, get up and have breakfast, and try to keep everything as ‘normal’ as possible. This can be difficult when crushed by grief, but it’s a step toward returning to normal. And it’ll help with the isolation in general.
Recognise guilt. People can feel guilt after experiencing loss. A feeling that more could have been done is common. And moving on, letting go, can be hardest of all. Recognising guilt and processing it properly is a healthy step in the grieving process.
Plan ahead. The first year following a bereavement is hard. And after that year, the anniversaries begin. It’s important to prepare for the impact these can bring. Plan any time off work you need, and think about ways to commemorate those times.
Keep mementoes. Your relationship with a loved one doesn’t end with their death. Make sure to keep photos, gifts and other items to remember them by.
Avoid alcohol. Numbing the pain of loss with alcohol—or other drugs—is only a temporary fix. And it can lead to other issues later on. It’s okay to want a drink, but in moderation.
What about funerals?
At time of publication (14th May), funerals in the UK can only go ahead at a crematorium or graveside. They can be attended only by immediate family, and social distancing rules must be strictly adhered to.
These are difficult rules to abide by, as human warmth and contact makes the process of saying goodbye a little easier—but these rules save lives.
I am grieving for someone who died of COVID-19. What can I do?
If a friend or family member has passed away due to coronavirus, or complications arising from an infection, then this is a traumatic bereavement with a number of factors that can be especially difficult to handle. Distancing and infection controls may mean you don’t get a chance to say goodbye, and death can be quite sudden.
Again, talking with friends and family can help—but if you’re finding it especially hard, talking to your doctor is a good idea. Talk through your issues, and listen to their suggestions. Their services are still available during this outbreak, and if you’re struggling, please use them.
How do I help someone who works for me, and is suffering a bereavement?
Right now, this situation is a little more complex than it would ordinarily be. With so many people working remotely or furloughed, it’s hard to communicate with that human touch that grief needs.
But for the most part, you can follow the usual best practices for supporting the bereaved.
Employers have been asked to be as flexible as possible in order to make the lockdown easy to implement—this includes offering paid compassionate leave. You’re not obliged to do this if it isn’t practical, but it’ll go a long way toward getting a grieving employee back on their feet.
Let them know they have support available—signpost an EAP, offer to listen. Ask whether the employee would like their colleagues informed—some will, some won’t.
Most importantly, be sensitive and flexible. Everyone responds to loss in different ways, and with the stresses of the pandemic looming large in everyone’s minds, it’s even harder to predict that response. Just be empathetic, listen, and offer everything you can to ease their pain.
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