Today marks both National Day of Reflection and a year since the UK first went into lockdown, which provides an opportunity for everyone across the UK to remember those we have lost.
Over the last 12 months, more than 120,000 people have died from COVID-19. The number of deaths can be hard to comprehend, and behind each death was a person who was loved and has left behind friends, partners, and family.
I am one of those people who has lost someone special. On 6 March, my mum died in hospital from COVID-19. For my family, like so many others, this National Day of Reflection is an important way for us to remember, grieve, and share love for our mum.
Losing someone during the COVID-19 pandemic
Losing someone is never easy, but for many families and older people the pandemic has made things much more difficult.
Many of us have been unable to be with our loved ones when they pass away. We’ve also been unable to grieve in the normal way, with lockdown restrictions meaning we cannot surround ourselves with friends and family, or even give people a hug. This is especially difficult for older people who have lost a partner and may now find themselves living alone for the first time.
Losing someone as we start to come out of lockdown can seem especially cruel, whatever the cause of their death. It’s unlikely that they will have been able to spend the last year of their lives doing all the things they love or with all the people they care for. It can also feel like they were so close to getting back to normal and that their future has now been stolen from them.
And it’s not just those who have lost someone during the pandemic finding things hard. Older people who lost people before the pandemic have told us how difficult they have found the last year without their usual coping mechanisms, such as socialising, clubs and activities, which they would previously have found helpful to manage their grief.
Remembering those we have lost
Many families who have lost someone during the pandemic have said how important it is that their loved one is not just a statistic and is properly remembered. On the National Day of Reflection, then, we are all being invited to light a candle and join together and remember those who are no longer with us.
My sister, dad, and I will be gathering on the driveway to light a candle for my mum and chat about how wonderful she was. But we don’t need to limit our celebrations to one day and there are many other ways to remember our loved ones in the future.
As restrictions mean that so many of my mum’s friends cannot attend her funeral, we have been thinking of different ways to celebrate her life. We have asked everyone who loved Mum to send us photos of her and share memories that we will put into a special book. It has been lovely to see how loved Mum is and to give everyone an opportunity to talk about her. It also means we will be able to look back on Mum’s life whenever we want to.
We will also be sending sunflower seeds to everyone who cannot attend the funeral and asking them to plant one in her memory. My mum used to love gardening with her grandsons, so for us this feels like a nice way to celebrate her.
Many people like to order flowers for a funeral when someone special has died, but in the current circumstances this can be more difficult. We have therefore set up a fundraising page in my mum’s memory for anyone who wants to donate.
Supporting someone dealing with loss
It can be hard to know what to say or do to support someone dealing with loss.
The National Day of Reflection can be a good way to reach out to those who have lost someone and remind them you are thinking of them. You might want to give them a call, send a card, or let them know that you will be lighting a candle in memory of the person they’ve lost.
But it’s important that the support we provide to one another continues beyond the National Day of Reflection. As we begin to talk about returning to normal, it’s important to remember those who have lost someone, whose lives will never be ‘normal’ again. Make sure to continue checking in on the older people in your life, too, to let them know you are there for them, and give them the opportunities they need to talk about those they have loved and lost.