More and more we're hearing about people who have been affected, personally, by the the COVID-19 pandemic. If you've lost a friend, colleague or family member, this is likely to be an incredibly challenging time, as you grieve in self-isolation. Our counsellor, Rachel Davies, has put together some advice for bereaved people at this time.
Advice for if you're bereaved
Treat yourself with kindness. Think of how you would treat a really good friend who was going through something really tough. You would probably want to look after them and be very caring – you should try to do this with yourself.
A whole range of different feelings is normal – you may feel very sad and teary, or angry and irritable, or maybe you won’t feel much at all and have a sense of being numb or empty. All feelings are part of grief, including not being able to feel much.
Don’t expect too much of yourself as its likely to be a mixture of good and bad days. On a bad day you may feel overwhelmed by grief and that nothing will ever feel normal again. On a good day you may still feel very sad but you may be able to have some happy thoughts about the person who has died.
It's very common to be surprised that normal life is still carrying on when your life has changed so dramatically. You might find laughter and everyday things like upbeat songs on the radio, really difficult, and be confused about how life is moving on when you are facing such loss. Do what feels right for you – if you need to pull back from activities you would normally enjoy or people you would normally want to spend time with then do this but also remember that sometimes a bit of normality can help.
People who love and care about you are likely to want to help but often people don’t know how to. Help them to help you by trying to ask for help or to say ‘yes’ to offers. It may be something small like dropping your shopping at the front door if you can’t face the supermarket but it keeps you connected.
If you have other family and friends that are also mourning the person you have lost then share your feelings and thoughts about the person who has died. It can be really comforting being with others who want to talk about your loved one and you can learn things about them by sharing memories. Yes it may be sad to do this but it can also help show you that their life was important to other people. Your memories and anecdotes can make others smile as well.
In the coronavirus lockdown, funeral services or wakes won’t be happening in the usual way. Think about what you can do through non face-to-face methods to connect with other people to grieve. For example, can you have a memory book online or a webcam meeting for people to be together?
Tips when someone you know has been bereaved
Everyone grieves differently so it's always better to ask open questions like “how has today been?” rather than to make lots of assumptions about how they are feeling.
It can be a very isolating time for the person, but it may be hard for them to reach out for help, so if you can be the proactive one that can make it easier. Try to make specific suggestions of things that can help rather than a general “call me if you need anything” – this puts pressure on the bereaved person to have to judge themselves what to do. Consider if you can help practically or emotionally and make a specific offer e.g. “Can I call you this evening for a chat?” or “I am going to do the weekly supermarket shop today so send me a shopping list if you need anything".
Make it ok for the bereaved person to talk about the person who has died. If you bring their name into conversation it can help the person know its ok to talk about them. The person who has died will be very much in their mind and it can be lonely if you feel you can’t talk about them.
Similarly the circumstances around the death may be something that the grieving person feels that they can’t talk about, but for a lot of people part of coming to terms with what has happened is talking about it. Ask open question so something like “Would you like to tell me how their last few days were?” is a way of showing that you are ok to talk about this. If they don’t want to talk about it they are likely to just say something like “It was all a blur” so take the cue from them.
Think about how you can share snippets of your memories about the person who died with the people who loved them most. These can be a great comfort and can remind them how loved the person who died is. You may want to do this by sharing a memory on the phone or in a text. If there are a few of you who have memories you may want to start some sort of memory book / page online and encourage others to post anecdotes or pictures.
Make sure you strike a balance between sharing your experiences and listening to theirs. Saying too much about your experience with grief may make the person feel that that is the ‘right’ way to experience loss, and it may not be how they are feeling. Instead, be genuinely interested in how they are feeling, and reassure them that you want to listen.
It’s a good idea to make a note of the date that the person died and any other significant dates you know about such as their birthday or anniversary. Just sending a text or a message on these significant dates over the coming months and years shows the bereaved person that you remember the date, that you are thinking of them and that you understand that this may be a hard day for them.