Grief support from a distance
Grief is an individual’s physical, behavioral, cognitive, spiritual and emotional reactions to a perceived significant loss. While our society tends to view grief as something that needs “gotten over”, grief is normal and healthy. A natural characteristic of grief that is exacerbated by our societal view is the tendency for the bereaved to feel isolated. During this time of COVID-19, this sense of isolation has been multiplied many times over. Even as the state is “re-opening”, we are still isolated, whether due to restrictions or self-imposed out of concern.
Chances are most of us personally know someone who is grieving a death. I recently witnessed two dear friends experience the death of their mother. It pained me to know I could not be with them in person to support them. Fortunately, I was able to attend the funeral, from a distance. As I stood back and cried, I realized that most of my tears were for my two friends who stood distanced apart among a few close family members. I wanted to hold them as they cried, but I could not. I wanted to stand close, hold their hand, and share some of my fond memories, but I was not allowed because of the pandemic restrictions. Yet, I was lucky to attend, even if it was from a distance, as I know my presence was significant to them.
So, how do we show support to the bereaved during a time when we need to keep our distance? Here are three suggestions to consider.
Call. Keep the phone call brief, unless the person keeps the conversation going. The main purpose is to let the person know you are aware and that you care. Offer to do something practical that you can still do at a distance such as mow their lawn once each week — and then do it. Many folks tend to shy away from phone calls early after a death. Be prepared to leave a message and let them know it’s ok if they don’t feel like returning your call.
Send a note card or small care package. During the weeks and months following a death, support can be needed even more than immediately following the death. Send a note to share a memory of the one who died. If you have a picture to go with your story, send a copy of that along as well! Create a care package of tea, a journal and a CD of soothing music, and send it with a reminder for them to honor themselves and their grief. If you’re not comfortable sending something through the mail, send an e-card or email your memories and pictures.
“Meet” for coffee. While perhaps not as good as the real thing there are free services that allow you to see the person while talking with them, such as Zoom, Skype and Facebook Rooms. If the bereaved chooses to talk about the death or their grief experience, be ok with the feeling of discomfort you may experience. This feeling is normal because the reality is that we cannot say or do anything to reverse the death event or take away the pain of grief. That’s ok — we aren’t supposed to. If the bereaved needs a break from their grief and simply wants to hear all about your current adventures, be ok with that as well.
While Pine Tree Hospice activities and grief support groups have been suspended and the office is temporarily closed to the public, staff is still available to provide limited assistance. Please do not hesitate to call our office at 207-564-4346.
Joy White, MA, CT is the bereavement & education coordinator for Pine Tree Hospice.