British Columbia

Vancouver Hospice Society expands grief support to those who lost loved ones to COVID-19

Free online grief counselling is now available to city residents and anyone seeking support outside Vancouver can contact the B.C. Bereavement Helpline for help finding local resources.

Anyone outside the city can contact B.C. Bereavement Helpline to connect to local resources

Family and friends mourn during a funeral for Carole Dawson, an elder of the Dzawada'enuxw Nation, who passed away due to COVID-19 in Vancouver in July. Pandemic protocols mean only small numbers of loved ones can safely gather in person to grieve the passing of a loved one. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

The pandemic has made it nearly impossible for people to gather and grieve collectively after losing a loved one to COVID-19 and the Vancouver Hospice Society (VHS) wants to help.

The non-profit society has expanded its grief counselling services to include sessions specifically for those mourning someone who died as a result of the disease. The online group sessions are free, will run once a week for four weeks, and are facilitated by a trained clinical counsellor.

Executive director Sarah Cobb says the sessions allow people to come together and share their pain at a time when people are socially isolated and unable to start the grieving process at a funeral or mourning ceremony.

"Without these rituals, it can stifle our ability to process our grief... and can lead to more complex feelings down the road," said Cobb on CBC's The Early Edition on Wednesday.

Public reached out for help

Cobbs said the society launched the program because of demand from the community.

She said people started calling hospice staff, with many saying their grief had been affected by being unable to gather with others, that they were suffering, and they needed support.

So VHS staff decided to fill that need.

"We are going to offer what we can while we can," said Cobbs.

The sessions, she said, also offer a way for people affected by the pandemic to feel like they are not a statistic, and not living in anonymity with their pain.

"We know that being able to connect with others who have experienced a similar death can be a helpful part of the grief process," said VHS clinical counsellor Kayla Hochfelder in a statement. 

Hochfelder said the group will also include a discussion of coping strategies, along with helpful resources.

In addition to individual grief counselling, VHS offers a range of bereavement support groups that address specific types of loss, such as children's grief groups, spousal loss, parental loss, adult child loss, and groups for friends and families of those who have chosen to die through Medical Assistance in Dying (MAiD).

To learn more about VHS and to register for a grief session, visit their website at vanhospice.org.

If you do not live in Vancouver and are looking for grief support, call the B.C. Bereavement Helpline at 1-877-779-2223.

To hear the complete interview with Sarah Cobb on The Early Edition, tap here.

With files from The Early Edition

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