As I write this, the number of people who have lost their lives to this deadly, cruel virus stands at 19, 506. We all know that sadly, the number is likely to be much greater. 19, 506...it is an almost impossible number to take in! Those 19, 506 individuals have left behind partners, children, grandchildren...not to mention friends and colleagues. That means hundreds of thousands of people, in the UK alone, are currently grieving for the death of a loved one. Not only having to come to terms with the fact that the person they love has died they are also having to process raw anger and sadness that they couldn't be by their side when they took their last breath, that they perhaps cannot attend the funeral to say goodbye, that it should have been them that was taken instead!
Complicated grief is intense grief following a death, that doesn't allow the person to move forward in their life. As a bereavement specialist and within my voluntary work for Cruse Bereavement Care, complicated grief is something that I frequently work with. It usually accompanies death by suicide, sudden death or death through a tragic accident. Grief is a natural process and part of the cycle of life and many people are able to move through the stages of grief by themselves without any complications. Yes, it's painful and distressing and can feel like a rollercoaster ride you just can't get off, but gradually these feelings ease, and it's possible to accept loss and move forward with life. Complicated grief, however, can persist for a long time, leaving you feeling stuck and unable to carry on with life and this is when most people tend to reach out for professional help.
The nature of how people with Coronavirus have died means that complicated grief is likely to be experienced by many over the coming months and years. Survivor guilt maybe one aspect of this. That feeling by other family members that 'it should have been me' or 'it was my fault as I passed it on'. Survivor guilt can leave people feeling consumed by their grief, unable to even consider joy, happiness or laughter. Dehabilitating anxiety and anger are two other powerful emotions that the hundreds of thousands of surviving family members and friends may also be currently battling with. The need to blame, the need to have answers, the fear of becoming the next person to fall victim to this unpredictable, predator. All of these emotions are compressed by the fact that many people are currently grieving alone; something that nature did not intend. Grief is a social behaviour and the support of others is an important part of 'healthy' grieving.
So, how do we support each other in lockdown? Sometimes it is the simple acts of kindness and love that can have the greatest impact:
As with most things in life, funerals and memorials have also moved online. This is a great way to extend the guest list past the ten people that are currently allowed to attend a funeral or memorial in person. However, if you can't attend a funeral then how about asking if you can contribute in some other way? A shared photograph, a poem, a story, a floral arrangement, a donation to a charity, these are all ways in which you can express your sympathy and say goodbye.
Don't be afraid to reach out to people who have recently lost a loved one. You won't be 'bothering them' or 'upsetting them more'. Bereaved people often want to talk about the person that has died. A phone call and a shared memory may just be what that person needs right now, especially if they live alone. E-cards are a great way to reach out if you don't feel comfortable picking up the phone or don't want to jump on a Zoom call.
Why not offer to go to the supermarket to get them some food, prepare them a meal to leave on their doorstep or take the dog out for a walk if they are not feeling up to it (remember to practice good hygiene).
For those who are struggling and want someone to talk to, then if private counselling isn't an offer there are plenty of charities in the UK, such as Cruse Bereavement Care, who are available to offer free support over the telephone:
Cruse Bereavement Care
0808 808 1677
Child Bereavement UK
0800 02 888 40