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Coping with bereavement and coronavirus

Supporting someone at the end of their life or coping with the death of someone important to you is never easy. But, for many people, the coronavirus pandemic is making things even harder. We have information to help you get through this time.

Can I visit someone who is dying?

It’s natural that you'll want to be with the person you care about in their final days, especially if you haven’t been able to see them for some time because of the coronavirus guidance. 

If someone is reaching the very end of their life, staff will do their very best to make sure you can say goodbye. Where you can visit, they will usually only allow one person at the bedside, but if it is possible to socially distance then two people may be able to visit. However, hospitals, hospices, and care homes will have their own policies on visiting and will need to think about the risk to others, staff, and visitors.

There will be processes in place to help keep you and others safe. You may be asked to wear protective equipment, such as gloves or face masks, and be advised to stay 2 metres away from others. If you are asked to wear protective equipment, consider how this may affect your visit to the person – it may change how you thought of the moment in your head or may make it harder for your loved one to recognise you. It’s a good idea to check with staff before arriving so you know what to expect and can prepare yourself.

If you can’t visit in person, there are other ways you could say goodbye. You could speak by phone or video call. You may just want to talk, or you could read, sing, or play music. Even if the person you care about is unable to communicate with you, they may still be able to hear and take comfort from your voice. You could also ask healthcare staff to pass on messages or send in laminated photos or letters for the person you care about to have with them.

Although this might not feel like it makes up for the fact you can’t be there in person, it is a way for you to communicate and connect with your loved one.

Losing a loved one to coronavirus

If you have lost someone important to you to coronavirus, you are likely to be experiencing a range of complex and difficult emotions. If your loved one became ill suddenly or unexpectedly, you may be in shock and find it hard to process what has happened. You may feel angry that they have been taken from you before their time or worried that they didn’t receive the care or treatment that they needed.

None of us have ever lived through a situation like this before and it might seem like other people don’t understand or can’t relate. It can help to talk to someone you trust about how you are feeling. There are support services available if you would prefer to speak to someone you don’t know. If you are struggling to cope you may also want to speak to your GP.

If someone you care about has died or is reaching the end of their life, it can be difficult to talk about it with those around you. The Let's talk about death and dying booklet helps you know what you might expect and how you can approach these conversations.

Dealing with grief during the pandemic

Losing someone we care about is never easy, but for many people the coronavirus pandemic is making things even harder – both for those who have lost someone during the pandemic and those who are being reminded of a previous loss.

Whether you have lost someone to coronavirus or to an unrelated cause it is likely that the pandemic will have had an impact. You may not have been able to be with your loved one or say goodbye in the way you would have liked to. You may have been unable to attend their funeral or hold religious rituals which are important to you.

You may also be grieving for someone that died before the pandemic. Maybe there’s been a anniversary during lockdown, or this has been your first time alone in your home since your loved one died. Families and friends can’t be together in the usual way and you may be grieving by yourself, without your usual support structures. You may even have concerns about your own health or someone you care for.

None of us have been in a situation like this before and there is no normal way to react or feel. You may be feeling anxious, angry, upset, lonely, guilty, or even relieved. It couldn’t have been predicted this was going to happen or prepare for it. It can be easier said than done but try not to be hard on yourself for how you are coping.

However, you’re feeling, it can be exhausting and you may not have much energy – physically or mentally –  and it can be hard to make sure you are looking after yourself. Try to make sure you eat enough and get plenty of sleep or rest when you can. If possible, go out for walks to get fresh air and a change of scenery. This might help clear your head.

Whatever your circumstances, it can really help to talk about how you’re feeling. If the death was recent you might not be ready yet and that’s OK. But do try to stay in contact with your friends and family – either over the phone or meet up outside.

Grieving in isolation

For many of us, the natural response after losing someone important to us is to turn to and be with friends and family for comfort. But, when we are being asked to limit our social contact with others, you may feel like you are having to cope by yourself. This can be especially difficult if you have lost someone you shared a home with and you are adjusting to living by yourself.

Whatever your circumstances, it can really help to talk about how you’re feeling. If the death was recent you might not be ready yet and that’s OK. But do try to stay in contact with your friends and family – either over the phone or meet up outside.

Even though it’s harder, there are still ways to stay in touch with people. If you aren't able to meet up, try to stay in touch online or over the phone. Don’t be afraid to ask for help and let people know what it is you need from them right now. This might be talking about your loved one; having someone there to distract you; or asking someone to pick some groceries up for you.

You may find it helpful to talk to people who are going through the same experience as you. The Good Grief Trust are hosting weekly virtual cafes for people who have lost someone they love, to chat and share a cup of tea.

If you don’t feel comfortable sharing how you feel with people you know, there are many services available which can provide you with support:

  • Cruse have a bereavement helpline for anyone who needs emotional support
  • Marie Curie have a support line, online forums and bereavement support
  • Talk to a bereavement counsellor online through Independent Age’s Grief Chat
  • If you think you need support, your GP is there to help and will be happy to chat with you about how you're feeling.

Bereavement and how you might be feeling

Many people experience guilt after losing someone important to them and may question whether they could have done more to help. This can be especially difficult if you weren’t able to spend much time with the person during their final few days/weeks or if you feel you weren’t able to give them the send-off they deserved because of the guidance around funerals. This might also lead to feelings of frustration, even anger at everything going on and how it’s affected this time for you and your loved ones.

These feelings are all completely natural and understandable. But try to remember that you could not have prepared for a situation like this and these circumstances have been out of your control.

Some people may also feel that their feelings are less important at the moment because lots of people are suffering. They may feel like they shouldn’t talk about their loved one or be so upset. This can be the case for people who lost someone important before the coronavirus pandemic or whose loved one’s death was not related to coronavirus. The fact that many people are struggling does not make your own grief and feelings less valid. You should not feel guilty about how you are feeling or bad for asking for help.

Coping with a loss which happened before the coronavirus pandemic

Regardless of when you experienced loss, there are many reasons why the coronavirus pandemic may be making things harder for you. 

It can be difficult to avoid discussions about death at the moment, with the media frequently covering the coronavirus pandemic and it coming up in conversations with friends. For some people, this can be hard and bring back painful memories of a previous loss. Taking a break from social media, avoiding the news and letting friends and loved ones know that you’re finding it difficult to talk about at the moment can help.

You may have been managing your grief before by spending time with friends, staying busy out of the home or doing activities that you enjoy. Being prevented from doing these things can make it harder to cope and leave you feeling isolated or lonely. Staying in touch with people can help you to maintain a sense of normality and routine. See about scheduling weekly calls with friends or family or explore whether you can continue some of your hobbies online or whether there are any new ones you could take up at home.

You might find it particularly hard being at home, with constant reminders of a partner or loved one you may have lost. If you can, try and get out and about, just make sure you follow the guidelines when doing so.

It may also seem like the death of your loved one is less important if it happened before the coronavirus pandemic. You may feel like people careless or have forgotten about what happened. While things are difficult for everyone at the moment, that doesn’t make your grief any less valid or mean that you need less help. If you are finding things difficult, talk to your friends and family about how they can support you. Try to be honest with them about how you are feeling and what might make things easier.

Our Bereavement information guide has more information about how you might be feeling as well as a list of organisations you can turn to for support.

Remembering and celebrating a loved one

If you lose someone you care about during this time you may be unable to attend their funeral or celebrate their life in the way you would like to. This can be really upsetting, and you may feel like you haven’t had a chance to properly say goodbye or process the loss.

If you can’t attend a funeral, you could ask other people to record the service so that you can watch it or ask for the order of service and readings to be sent to you. You might want to record a message to be read out or ask if someone could read a poem or reading on your behalf.

We have more information on funerals and coronavirus

Some people find it comforting to spend time remembering the person they have lost and reflecting on their memories together. It might be nice for you to light a candle, look through photos, or listen to songs which remind you of your important person.

There are also ways that you can commemorate your loved one at home. You could plant a flower in their memory or produce a memory box or scrapbook of happy times. Some people like to write a poem or letter to the person, expressing how they’re feeling.

Although things are hard at the moment, it won’t always be like this. When social distancing restrictions are eased you could hold a formal or informal memorial with your friends and family.

How can I help someone who is grieving?

When someone you care about is grieving, it can be difficult to know what to say or how to help. This is even harder when you aren't able to give them a hug.

People who are grieving during the coronavirus pandemic may feel isolated or alone. Try to stay in touch as much as you can by ringing, video calling or even sending cards or gifts in the post. You could also suggest meeting in person, as long as you follow the Government guidelines. 

Some people might not want to talk but letting them know you are thinking about them and are there when they are ready, can be a big reassurance. Others will want to talk about the person they have lost and will benefit from a listening ear.

When someone has experienced a bereavement, it can be hard for them to stay on top of things. Seeing if they need you to pick up food or essentials for them could be a big help. Don’t wait for them to ask you, ask them if there is anything you can do and even suggest a few things.

If you're worried about someone, it can be tricky to know how exactly to start a conversation with them about what's going on or how they might be feeling. We've put together some suggestions of things that might help you.

Starting a conversation with someone you're worried about

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Last updated: Apr 20 2021

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