UPHOLDING RITUALS OF GRIEF AND SUPPORT DURING A PANDEMIC
The COVID-19 crisis has upended much of our normal patterns of life and death. Medical social worker and Director at the Institute for Healthcare Improvement, Kelly McCutcheon Adams, authors a two-part blog series for the Conversation Project that is focused on how we can preserve our rituals.
McCutcheon Adams begins her first blog by emphasizing how fundamentally human our mourning rituals are. “Months ago, I saw a headline about a discovery that proved an example of burial rituals going back farther than previously known,” she reflects. “The details have fallen away but the message remained – humans across eras, across cultures, across the globe have long-needed to engage in rituals of transition and comfort when experiencing the death of a loved one.” With technology like social media and email, we’ve already been experiencing gradual change in our grieving habits. However, COVID-19 has pushed our grief even further online.
Having attended a COVID-19 era funeral via Zoom, McCutcheon Adams has been struck by the differences between an in-person and virtual funeral. “The familiar view of seeing the bereaved from behind with their dark-clothed shoulders shaking from the front row was flipped and we saw their eyes,” she says. “Perhaps this is a part of the new ritual we should keep even when we can gather in person and put our arms around the grieving. Perhaps we should continue to look in each other’s eyes and to say we see and hold the pain.”
There are many ways we can adapt our support for the bereaved to the current moment, McCutcheon Adams says. Among them, consider how we may help those who have difficulty navigating unfamiliar technology necessary for online gatherings. Reach out to the bereaved with your voice by calling or leaving a voice message, rather than just sending a text. Offer favors that are more appropriate to our current condition: help with a grocery delivery or have flowers delivered, rather than dropping off a casserole. Find other creative ways to show support while maintaining social distance. McCutcheon Adams and her children used chalk to add Easter-themed drawings up the sidewalk of their recently widowed neighbor who loves to decorate his home for holidays. He blew smiles and kisses through the window, she says.
In part two of her blog series, McCutcheon Adams gives more focus to how we may support the bereaved now during the pandemic. COVID-19 has stripped so much of our normal lives from us, most of us are experiencing some form of grief, she says. Among them, though, are the many families who have lost loved ones to the virus and to other causes during this crisis. While we’re all prevented from practicing our normal forms of support, these grieving individuals can feel especially isolated.
McCutcheon Adams offers some helpful reminders for coping with grief during this time. First she says it’s important to recognize that if you are mourning a loved one now, you are in a time of “compounded grieving.” We are already challenged by the loss of normalcy, security, and social experiences. Grief for a lost loved one is likely to feel even stronger in this moment.
She suggests the bereaved take up offers of help from friends, family, doctors, neighbors – any member of their community who have offered support. She suggests specific ways to ask for and receive help. Take heart in knowing this extreme form of social distancing will not be in place forever, she says. Consider holding online memorial services now while we can’t be together physically and plan to get together again in person when it’s safe. Perhaps a second memorial gathering on the anniversary of the death would be helpful for those grieving.
There is no right way to grieve, McCutcheon Adams reminds us. She offers links to further resources of support and reminds those who are grieving to reach out to their doctors if they are concerned for their well-being during these difficult times. (The Conversation Project: Part One, 4/13, https://theconversationproject.org/tcp-blog/ritual-and-grief-in-the-time-of-covid-19/; Part Two, 5/11, https://theconversationproject.org/tcp-blog/grief-in-the-time-of-covid-19/)