Grief, Bereavement and the Coronavirus (COVID-19) Outbreak

Brought to you in partnership with St Columba’s Hospice Care and written by Donna Hastings, Family Support Worker.

When someone dies, our lives can feel like they have been turned upside down.  Whether we were prepared in advance for the death because someone was ill or whether it was sudden and happened without warning, we know in that moment that our lives will be changed forever.

During this COVID-19 pandemic, our grief (our responses to the death) could feel more difficult because we might not have the normal opportunities to say goodbye, such as speaking to or visiting the person before they die or attending their funeral. The restrictions which are in place might mean you have little choice about how to say goodbye and this can sometimes cause additional feelings of sadness, anger, regret or guilt about not being with the person when they died or not having had the chance to say the things you would have liked to say to them.  It might help to know that when the person died they would have been looked after.

You can still find ways to say goodbye, even if you can’t be there in person.  Perhaps you could write a card/letter to the person who has died and tell them goodbye this way.  You might be able to have the card or letter put into their coffin or you could ask for something to be read out during the funeral.

Information on Funerals

Funerals might look quite different just now, because of the rules on social distancing, and it can be helpful to be prepared for this. The government has recommended limiting funeral services to ‘immediate family’ only (for example, members of the same household and close family members). Some exceptions may be allowed, such as allowing one or two close friend(s) if the person who died lived alone and had few or no immediate family members. 

Anybody who is self-isolating, who has symptoms, or who is in a high-risk group should not attend the funeral service. 

Funerals can now only go ahead at a crematorium or graveside, and not at places of worship.  

Funeral Directors may no longer be able to provide limousines because of risk of infection, or there may be restrictions in place, so family members may need to make their own way to the funeral service. If you are a young person under 16, perhaps a family member can make arrangements for you to be able to attend. For young adults, if you are able to attend the funeral, you might need to think about how you get there.

The maximum number of people able to attend the funeral service will be smaller (perhaps 5-15 maximum) and the people who get to attend will be encouraged to maintain physical distance, so chairs will be set out further apart than normal. It can feel very strange and very difficult not to offer people a hug but maintaining social distance is important in reducing the spread of the virus. Try to use words to express how you are feeling instead - you can even tell the person how much you wish you could reach out and give them a hug.  

If you can’t attend the funeral, it might be possible for the funeral to be live streamed so that you can watch from home. If you are doing this and you live with other people, it can be a good idea to watch the funeral with them so you aren’t alone.

If this isn’t possible then maybe at the time the funeral is taking place you could light a candle to remember the person who died, sit quietly for 20 minutes or so holding a photograph of them, or listen to some music you know they liked.

You might be able to use Zoom, Skype, or FaceTime so you can join with family members online to comfort one another and share memories.  

Coping with Bereavement 

Grief is a normal reaction to bereavement, and we all grieve differently. Here are some of the common reactions to bereavement which you might feel:

Sadness and confusion: you might be crying a lot, you may not have been able to cry yet, you might also be confused about the death or about your feelings.  If you have any questions, try to ask someone else who might be able to answer them for you.

Anger:  perhaps you are feeling angry that your loved one died due to this virus, or angry that you couldn’t be with them when they died, or that you were not able to attend the funeral.  Feelings of anger are common in grief.  If you are feeling angry, try to find a way to express this safely.

Worry: You might be worried that someone else in your family/that you are close to will die too.  You might also be worried about who will look after you if you are a young person who still lives at home, or how you can cope without the person who died.  It’s important to try to share your worries with others, either family members or friends.  If you feel you can’t talk to any of these people, there are supports online and specialists you can talk too - you’ll find information about these below.

Guilt or regret: Sometimes we can feel like we could have done /said something differently, we can feel like we are to blame or that the death was our fault in some way. This might feel even more like this now due to not having been able to see the person to say goodbye. Remind yourself that there were circumstances which were outside of your control and that it was not your fault.

You might feel all or these or none. Grief is different for everyone. Many people can feel alone after a death and the current situation might make this even more upsetting. You might not feel like looking after yourself but it is important to try to get enough sleep, eat as healthily as possible, avoid drinking too much alcohol (if you are over 18) and get some exercise. Spend some time outdoors if you can. If you don’t have a garden then you could think about sticking to quieter roads or paths during your once-a-day outdoor exercise, and going out early or late, when it is less likely to be busy.

All these things can help you to cope with the hard emotions you can feel when you are grieving. Reach out to other people and stay connected.  While others would normally offer comfort and support in person, social distancing measures may make this more difficult. Stay in touch with family and friends by phone, text, and social media (e.g. Zoom, Skype, FaceTime).  

Keeping to a routine and keeping some structure to your day is usually helpful.  This might seem more difficult just now as you may not be attending school/college or work.  You can still make some kind of gentle routine though.  Have a plan for the day and try to include the things mentioned above.

Take time to remember the person who has died.  Maybe you could make a scrap book of memories using photos and information about their life, or talk to other family members and share stories. 

Remember, grief is different for everyone and it doesn’t stay the same all the time. Sometimes you might want to talk about the person who died or about how you are feeling, and at other times not.  Be gentle and kind with yourself and know that whatever you are feeling is a normal response when you are grieving.

It is also important to take a break from all the painful feelings of grief. Try to find time to do something you enjoy, like watching a favourite TV programme or movie, or listening to music or reading or talk to friends. It is OK not to feel sad all the time.

If you find yourself struggling to cope with how you are feeling, there is always someone you can reach out to for support. You might find some of the links below useful. They offer telephone support, live chat, online forums and apps.

More information from Young Scot on Coronavirus (COVID-19).