Grief & Healing
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Dr. Alan D. Wolfelt is a respected author and educator on the topic of grief. He believes that meaningful funeral experiences help families and friends support one another, embrace their feelings, and embark on the journey to healing and transcendence. Below are some articles that Dr. Wolfelt has written since the pandemic began affecting North America. We hope that you will find them helpful.
Additional information on grieving can be found on the website for the Center for Loss and Life Transition at www.centerforloss.com.
This pandemic is replete with tragedy, but one Colorado story not far from my home has been weighing on my heart. In the Huffington Post on May 7, 2020, Mary Hagen Roberts published an essay about the death of her precious daughter, Laura, who had just turned 33. Laura died not of COVID-19, but of cancer. Her death came much faster than they expected. In early April, the stomach cancer had spread to Laura’s lungs, but because her symptoms mimicked those of the novel coronavirus, she was given a presumptive COVID-19 diagnosis and hospitalized. For a time, she was alone, isolated from her fiancé, Brett, her mother, and even the hospital staff.
Laura was discharged from the hospital on Easter Sunday. But she didn’t want Mary, who is in her 60s and has Addison’s disease, to leave the shelter of her home and risk contracting coronavirus. The “damn virus,” as Mary calls it, kept them apart. And then a bronchoscopy revealed that Laura had perhaps just a month left to live. Despite the threat of the virus, Mary packed a bag and on April 23rd got in the car to drive the four hours to Laura’s home. Tragically, Laura died that day, minutes before Mary arrived.
“I have no idea how to carry on now that she is gone or what to do with my unbearable sorrow,” Mary writes. “Tell me how to grieve when we are not permitted to have a funeral or memorial service, when the precious body of my child disappears into the back of a repurposed funeral home minivan, never to be seen again. I want the rituals of mourning that our society— that I—have learned to rely on to process grief.”
What a tragic, tragic situation. Grief is always difficult and complicated, but Mary is suffering heightened grief complications because of the pandemic restrictions.
When someone dies - of COVID-19 or any cause - during this pandemic, their loved ones are being left to grieve in especially harrowing circumstances. They may not have been able to be by the dying person's side in the hospital or long-term care facility. They may have been prevented from spending time with the body, which we know helps mourners say hello on the path to goodbye. And due to social distancing mandates, they have probably been unable to gather with friends and family to provide each other essential mutual support.
For these and other reasons, it's a terrible time for loss. It's a terrible time to be grieving.
If you would like to support a grieving person during this time, you might feel unsure about what to say or do. After all, many of the time-honoured methods of demonstrating your care and concern - such as attending the funeral, or stopping by the family's home to offer an embrace and your presence - aren't options. Yet you can still be a light in this dark time. The five principles that follow will guide you.
It became obvious as the conversation continued that she was experiencing feelings of grief and in search of borrowing some much needed hope. As I hung up the phone after 20 minutes, I found myself yearning to write about hope, because, especially during difficult times like these, it is indeed the pillar that holds up the world.
If someone you love has died of the novel coronavirus, it is likely that you are facing a number of challenging circumstances. Grief is always difficult, but it is especially difficult whenever a death is sudden, unexpected, and unfolds in ways that violate our expectations and puts up barriers to the cultural grief rituals that help us through.
I have been a grief counselor and educator for over forty years, and this pandemic is unlike anything I have encountered. I am sorry you have been so deeply affected by this hardship.
Alongside the physical pandemic, the novel coronavirus is causing a pandemic of grief. That’s what we’re all feeling right now—grief. It’s important to recognize that.
Grief is everything we think and feel inside of us whenever our attachments are threatened, harmed, or severed. We experience shock and disbelief. We are anxious, which is a form of fear. We become sad and possibly lonely. We get angry. We feel guilty or regretful. The sum total of all these and any other thoughts and feelings we are experiencing as a result of the coronavirus pandemic is our grief.
Needless to say, the coronavirus pandemic of 2020 is a challenging time for everyone. But if someone you love has died, it is likely that the current social distancing orders and travel restrictions are making funeral planning especially difficult for your family.
Losing a loved one is hard enough. Losing a loved one at a time of unprecedented upheaval and limitations may seem overwhelming. I am sorry you have been put in this position, and I hope this article will help your family find ways to meet your mourning needs and honor the person who died while making any necessary adjustments to keep everyone safe.
As the coronavirus spreads across North America and our daily lives are transformed, we all must be aware of the need for good mental-health care. Obviously, it’s a stressful time. Families are confined to their homes. School is canceled. Many businesses are closed. Workers are being laid off en masse, causing financial distress. And then there is the illness itself, COVID-19. Will we or someone we love become critically ill or even die? We are all naturally worried about the “what ifs” and “what nexts.”
The youngest among us are not immune to all of this stress. They sense it in the adults around them, and they see it on social media and other sources of information. Their own day-to-day routines have been completely disrupted.
When it comes to painful, complex realities, it can be difficult to know how much we should share with children. Many people have an instinct to protect kids. But as someone who has worked with and advocated for grieving children for many decades, I’ve learned that what they really need is honesty combined with steadfast care.
The coronavirus is not only causing a viral pandemic—it is giving rise to a pandemic of grief. As I write this, in mid-March, we as a global community are suffering so many losses that I hardly know where to begin.
Death and grief go hand-in-hand, of course. Thousands of people have already died of COVID-19 worldwide. Many more are dying right now. These are terrible losses for the loved ones of these precious individuals, and they will need our support and empathy in the months to come.
Yet what strikes me at this moment is that this aggressive new virus is threatening every single person on Earth with myriad losses of every kind. Name something you care about or that gives your life meaning. In all likelihood, this attachment is now negatively affected or threatened in some way by the coronavirus.
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