Dr. Susan Adams, Licensed Professional Counselor
The corona virus brings fear and death to every continent and every country. It has bound all of humanity in two common goals – finding a cure and stopping the spread! Retail stores, restaurants, businesses, educational systems, hospitals, and even worship experiences have all had their daily normal replaced by a “new normal” of isolation that is uncertain and unknown.
Sarah’s home now consists of single living quarters in a senior living facility. She is not allowed to leave her room due to quarantine. Her daughter, Abby, sees no choice but to prevent her two sons (ages 11 and 8 months old) from getting any closer to their grandmother than the other side of her window. Abby does not know if any of them are carriers or not, but she does not want any of them to be at risk. Abby’s tears of sadness silently fall because she knows that her mother needs to be hugging her grandchildren more than ever. This is not the relationship Abby always dreamed of her children having with their grandmother.
Three adult children (one daughter and two sons) of a middle aged couple all died within four days of each other from the virus. The daughter delivered the first grandchild which should have been a happy time of celebration. However, she went through the birth process alone because of the lock down policy for all hospitals and alone she bore the sorrow of death. The baby died within a few hours of birth, her mother died within 24 hours, and both of her brothers died within another 12 hours of their mom’s death. All were in hospitals scattered across the United States, but their families all grieved alone because of the hospitals – meaning no one is permitted in. Her father was the only family she had left, and they would be quarantined in their individual homes because of the pandemic sweeping the world.
This virus has planted both feet firmly in the arena of dying. People are left to mourn alone without a hug or even the simple presence of their loved ones. It has also changed the face of death and the mourning rituals that are linked with the finality of life.
Charlie was stationed overseas when he was informed that his retired military father had died of Coronavirus (even though his doctors admitted it was probably a massive heart attack and not the virus that ended his life). When Charlie’s flight landed, he discovered there would be no funeral service, no flag-draped coffin, or burial with military honors that his father had wanted and planned. Charlie’s children (ages 3, 5, and 8) and his wife or any of Charlie’s siblings would not be able to even witness the simple, sterile burial. The funeral home took his dad’s body to the grave with only Charlie’s mother and one clergy member attending. There would be no personal words of condolences offered or hugs shared – either after the burial or in the sad days ahead. No flowers or plants were present, but a few condolence cards trickled in a few days after his father’s burial. In the ensuing silence, there was only a void full of memories as reminder of his father’s life. Although heartbreaking, the family understood.
Some funeral rituals are being delayed or replaced with a future plan to celebrate the deceased’s life. However, how do you postpone the painful emotions, shrouded in loneliness, that follow death? After the death of her mother, Reba McEntire, a country performer, posted on social media, “It's awful when you need a community, but you cannot have a community,”
There have been many creative solutions that have hastily evolved. Some funeral homes are providing online guest books to virtually sign or livestreaming services with only four to five people present to maintain social distancing. Some mourners view the body from a drive-by window at the funeral home. Connecting with family members through virtual media software (e.g., FaceTime, Skype, ZOOM, etc.) is better than nothing, but it is not the same as a hug or simply a touch of another human hand.
It does not matter the age or circumstances of the one who died, the ripping pain can be the same. When couples are mourning the death of their newborn baby. There may not be any family photos to remember this whisper of special love that was only on earth for a short time. The sense of loss for the death of a young family member can become even more difficult to get through the struggles of the family’s grief.
Often people are left to make this grief journey with the impersonal virtual connection of a face on the other side of the monitor screen. Death can also represent more than physical loss. It is the loss of future dreams, plans, and hopes. What can you do when there is nothing to do? No flowers to send; no casseroles to deliver; no hugs from loved ones to share the sorrow?
There are no “rules” to address grief, whatever the age or circumstances during this pandemic situation that has commanded everyone’s attention on some level. However, here are a few helpful suggestions:
Reach out regularly – whether by mail, text, phone, email, or virtual visits through Skype, Zoom, or Face Time. (There are others, but these will get you started.)
Do not minimize what someone is going through. Validate their feelings – whatever they are. Let them know whatever they are feeling is perfectly normal.
Listen but do not try to “fix the situation." One of the best things we can do to support someone who is grieving is to “hold space for them.”
Virtually gather as family and friends to share your favorite stories or memories. These can be so powerful!
Send a care package with self-care items like a journal, adult coloring book, gift card for a local restaurant (and include the delivery costs).
Find a place outside to share some beautiful scenery and remember that God is still in control of everything! In the middle of chaos, nature remains with the open air, the trees and fields, the beautiful flowers, the sun by day and the stars of heaven by night.
When we slow down to observe all that is around us, we can behold God’s beauty and His Sovereignty. This remains true even today in the middle of the current chaos.
About the Author
“Providing Guidance Through Life’s Storms”