Grief: The Unspoken COVID Tragedy
I’ve been asked in recent weeks, what, if any, disruptions have been felt by the funeral industry. Certainly the routine tasks of scheduling burials and cremations have changed, then the forbiddance of funeral Masses as well as clergy at the funeral home and the social distancing measures in the funeral home, itself. But there is no greater and more tragic disruption than that to the grief process.
Complicated grief is a recognized disorder, defined when sufferers are trapped in their pain and sense of loss after the death of someone they love.* While grief is a normal human emotion that we are compelled to feel upon losing a loved one, the process is historically open and transparent. People usually grieve amidst the comfort of family and friends that encircle them in the aftermath of loss. Wakes serve pivotal functions in providing a central gathering place to pay homage to a life that was lived and show support for the family they’ve left behind. In the uncertain times we are living in, grieving families have been stripped of their opportunity to grieve properly. They are forced into an isolated grief by the requirements of social distancing. State guidelines imposed upon our industry limit visitations to “immediate family only” with no more than 10 people suggested in attendance. Cemeteries have imposed more strict regulations, forbidding mourners to exit their car and approach the site of burial, with the exception of a few immediate family members. Complicated grief has long lasting effects. Those who suffer from it, are never given the ability to properly heal. Grief is a process. We will each walk through it at some point, if not multiple points in our life. While you are never “cured”, you are normally able to submit to the process. Elizabeth Kubler Ross and others have categorized “stages of grief”, and in the end, we eventually gain an acceptance of our “new normal”. We never, however, mend the holes in our heart.
One of the lesser spoken tragedies of the era defined by COVID-19, is the inability to properly go through the grief process. Families are not getting a chance to adequately honor loved ones with the wakes and memorials that they would usually plan. The planning, itself, often promotes comfort and healing. Communities are not afforded a chance to say their proper “good byes”, to those they have lost. While we are grateful for technological capabilities that allow us to view services from the privacy of our homes, there is something to be said for the warmth of a human hug. (side note: I’m incredibly grateful for my brother, Vin Jr’s, tech savvy and ability to broadcast services for families who desire, via the web).
As a funeral director, my heart is heavy for those who are being denied their proper grief. Death is a life event that we only have once chance to live through. The pain for those who have experienced a loss during these weeks, will linger far after the virus is eradicated from our world. There is no vaccine nor cure for this pain. It weighs upon the mourner, often coming in waves, and lasts a lifetime. The broken hearted bereaved are among the most tragic casualties of this pandemic.
My advice: if someone you know has lost a loved one, and you were unable to attend services, reach out to them. Our interactive website allows you to post condolence messages, take advantage of it. Normally, the flood of people that surrounds the mourner in the immediate aftermath of loss, dissipates in the weeks that follow. In these cases, weeks down the road is when these mourners will need you more. Check in on them, pray for them, send food, flowers to their home, charitable donations in their loved one’s name….whatever you would have done normally, please do so now. Social distancing creates physical separations, but there are no limits placed upon the emotional bonds of love we share.
Stay safe, stay well, stay strong everyone,
*Definition provided by bridgestorecovery.com