The death of someone close can be one of the hardest and most distressing things we will ever face. Globally the way we react to a death is influenced by various things, including our personality, cultural background, faith and our previous experience of loss.
However, I know from my 17 years of working in bereavement that two of the most profound effects on our grief can be how the person has died, and our own circumstances whilst we are grieving. Both of these factors have been strongly impacted by Covid-19.
We are all in an unprecedented situation. Globally over 40,000 people have tragically died as a result of the coronavirus.
This number is hugely tragic, but let’s also not forget that each of those 40,000 people will have a network of many more others who are now bereaved. We are currently facing bereavement on a global scale, with hundreds of thousands left behind.
We know that, along with the extreme sense of loss we can feel when someone dies, there can also be deep shock: grief can feel both extremely raw and unreal at the same time.
Imagine then having to isolate in the same house in which you lived together, and perhaps they died in. The anxiety around asking yourself, “Will I be next?” can also be terrifying. We are left both bereft of that person and also fearing for our own lives.
An added difficulty at this time when it comes to grief is the impact on funerals. We have been seeing many tragic reports of people being unable to get to funerals of loved ones or of funerals having to severely limit the number of people that can attend.
Having to make decisions like this can be hugely distressing to loved ones, and can exacerbate feelings of grief and angst.
There is no shying away from the fact that we are facing an incredibly difficult time globally. However, there is a chance to reach out and support people in different ways. If you know of someone who is struggling, whether their bereavement was recent or a few years ago, there is a lot you can do to help.
One of the simplest and most effective things you can do is to show the bereaved person that you are there for them. If you can’t be there physically, you could speak over the phone, engage in social media or send them a gift or a card. All of these things can show that person that they are not alone.
There are no right words to say — but just turning up for them, and listening, is so important.
Often when someone is bereaved, they can be in a state of shock, and simple things like shopping for food and running errands can be completely forgotten.
What you can do is offer practical help – even something as simple as dropping off some food, or offering to look after their children for a short time. It once again can communicate that they are not alone.
Finally, help them to remember the person who has died. Share memories and times you had together. It may feel like the good times someone had with the person who has died are wiped out, but they are not. Those memories remain and they are precious.
It is true that we are living through a period of global mourning and grief, but we are also in a position to strengthen social ties, and to remember who and what matters the most to us. Whatever the context, showing you care about people who have been through great loss never changes.
Andy Langford is the clinical director for Cruse Bereavement Care, the largest bereavement charity in the UK