Losing a loved one is an inevitable part of life, but one for which we are rarely prepared – finding ourselves powerless in the face of one of our most intense emotions.
And so we turn to rituals such as funerals to regain control and to formally say goodbye.
But strict restrictions due to Covid-19 have left many people missing out on these important moments, including even holding a relative’s hand as they pass away.
And with 42,000 extra lives lost due to the virus, more of us are grieving than ever.
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Linda Magistris, chief executive of The Good Grief Trust, says her charity has seen calls soaring.
“People haven’t been able to say goodbye properly, nor reach out for human support,” says Linda. “They’ve been left to cope alone.
“Even stages like sorting through possessions are put on hold – you can’t move forward. It’s tragic, and will cause a tsunami of mental health problems.”
Despite the difficulties, there are strategies you can use to ease such painful times.
Sadness isn’t the only feeling that accompanies grief.
“It’s a cliché, but it is a rollercoaster,” says Carole Henderson, who runs Grief Recovery UK.
“There are some common symptoms – poor concentration, numbness, fluctuating emotions.
“One minute you’re fine, the next you’re angry or weepy.
“You can have physical symptoms too – your heart can ache or feel like it’s racing.
“One of the key things to remember is that everyone grieves uniquely. It doesn’t help to compare yourself to others.”
Nor does suppressing the sadness – you will only be storing up problems for later.
Lianna Champ is a funeral director, grief recovery specialist and author of How To Grieve Like A Champ (RedDoor, £9.99).
She explains: “People are so afraid to cry, but there is healing in those tears. It releases stress hormones, reducing depression.
“Don’t be afraid of sadness – fall into it, let it wash over you. It’s an equal emotion to happiness.”
Being denied a traditional funeral is a heartbreaking part of current circumstances – but there are ways to help make up for it. Lianna says many funerals she has recently officiated at brought people together via live streaming.
“At the beginning, we light a candle and we ask those attending virtually to do so at the same time, to feel part of it,” she says.
“Technology can be a way to share memories and love when we can’t reach out physically.
“Families are having Zoom remembrance services which they can record and download.
“Make memory books – decorate them and print off photos.
“That’s important because grieving is not just an emotional process but a physical one too, expressing yourself through ritual.”
Also use the time to plan a post-lockdown memorial service that will be unique to the person and commemorate their life, taking ideas from family and friends.
Caring for your wellbeing is paramount after a loss, no matter how hard you find it to get out of bed.
Prioritise your needs and nourish your body.
Linda Magistris says: “Self-care is absolutely vital. Cook good food and try things like yoga to calm the mind and help you sleep. A lot of people are angry about Covid and how it has stopped them saying goodbye. Exercise can help. It gets you outside, clears your mind and helps you stay well.”
Try to eat regular meals, get lots of rest and avoid things such as alcohol and drugs to numb pain.
Aim to complete small tasks each day, to give you focus.
Breathing exercises or mindfulness apps can help to find peace within the stress and sadness.
Leave nothing unsaid
People often get stuck in grief because they have unfinished emotional business with the person who has died. Lianna Champ says: “You wish you could have changed things or said something different, and you hold yourself in a place of regret.
“It’s like driving a car with the handbrake on. But if you could have one more conversation with the person who has died, what would you ask them and what would you tell them?
“Write it in a letter, being as honest as you can – you don’t have to share it.
“Do it with a box of tissues on hand and let yourself cry. It hurts – let it.”
Reach out for support
Employing the British stiff upper lip is the worst thing you can do while grieving. Says Carole Henderson: “My motto is, ‘Don’t be strong, be human’. Tell another person what’s in your heart, even if it is just you miss them.
“It’s about being heard, sharing that feeling to let your feelings be normal.”
Find one person who will listen to you without judgment and who you can be honest with.
If you feel uncomfortable talking to a relative or friend, there are professionals and peer support groups on hand, even with the restrictions.
The Good Grief Trust runs pop-up cafes around the country to connect the bereaved community, and these have moved online for the pandemic.
You can also find supportive Facebook and WhatsApp groups. Linda Magistris says: “Connecting with others who have suffered loss gives mental and physical release. Keeping grief in is like a pressure cooker.”
Don’t expect a quick fix
We are told time is a great healer and that grief goes in five stages, but experts say this intellectualisation of the process is very unhelpful and there are no quick fixes.
“Do things in your own time, there’s no rush,” says Linda. “Grief is unique, you have to do what is right for you – there is no ‘should’.
“We have people coming to us for help who lost someone 20 years ago. If you don’t have support early on, the feelings can come back in difficult times such as this pandemic.
“There are no stages to grief, it’s for ever – but you learn to manage it and to see a positive future.”