Dealing with loss of a loved one during Covid-19

Living through a global pandemic has brought uncertainty and anxiety to every aspect of life as we know it, but when that uncertainty spreads to even the final passage; death, it gets real. Covid-19 is robbing people of the opportunity to bid a final farewell to loved ones and worsening the grief of the living.  

When a person suffers a loss, through death, this induces a process of grieving. The loss arises after some triggering experience that produces a situation of separation.  A loss arising from the death of a close family member has the greatest psychological impact. Individuals go through grieving as a process and there are different stages of grieving. However, the stages are not linear and individuals may go between stages.

Kübler-Ross: 5 Stages of Grief

  • Denial: Avoidance, confusion, shock, fear
  • Anger: Frustration, irritation, anxiety
  • Bargaining: Struggling to find meaning, reaching out to others to tell one’s story
  • Depression: Overwhelmed, helplessness, hostility
  • Acceptance: Exploring options, new plan in place, moving on

When does ‘grief’ become ‘complicated grief’?

Circumstances such as grieving for a loved one in the absence of their body may increase the risk of complicated grief. Normal procedures such as embalming, selecting the clothing envisaged and viewing of the body do not occur, thus, there remains a sensation of not paying respects as one would have wished.
In addition, multiple losses may increase the risk for complicated grief. For example, an entire family may be diagnosed with Covid-19 and then pass away in a short duration of time after one another. For the remaining family and friends the magnitude and tragedy of the loss poses a challenge. Apart from this, we look to others for support and with restrictions we miss the opportunity to receive comfort and support from family members and friends.

So how do I move forward, get closure and cope?

  • Psychotherapy: The gold standard for processing grief is psychotherapy with a qualified psychologist. There is no standard time period for grieving but consistent sessions will assist you to get through this process. Although death happens to everyone, it is often hidden and not talked about. Break the stigma and understand that by speaking to a psychologist you will be facilitated through this process.
  • Online funerals: Depending on each family, if there is an online link to view the funeral of a loved one, do login and watch it for closure. Some closure is better than none at all.
  • Stay connected: In previous pandemics the marked difference is that they did not have the advantage that we have; the internet! Use it to stay virtually connected; video call loved ones, phone and text family and friends especially those going through losing a loved one. The lesson is to keep checking in on people, and keep the support going even after this pandemic ends. The stress will continue especially if jobs or relationships are affected.
  • Journaling: Keep a journal to put your losses into words; research has shown that writing about emotional upheavals can improve our physical and mental health. It assists us in reflecting on our emotions and current mental state.

Source: Kiara Sunder, Clinical Psychologist
HPCSA No: PS 0143480

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