Manitoba·Point of View

How to grieve loss of loved one during pandemic restrictions

Former minister John Wesley Oldman explains how "the impact of COVID-19 has complicated, interrupted and even blocked  the grieving process" -- and suggests ways to manage it.

Opinion: Former minister offers guidance, comfort to those who can't gather together in times of grief

Pandemic restrictions means limited close contact with loved ones while grieving, says retired Minister John Wesley Oldham. However, he says, "we can be creative in how we show empathy and compassion." (Donna Carreiro/CBC)

How can we grieve effectively during pandemic times?

All of us have experienced grief since the pandemic began — loss of freedom, loss of income, loss of opportunities to travel, loss of health. Grief is our common denominator.

However, the most profound loss has been the loss of a loved one who has died because of — or during — the pandemic. 

The impact of COVID-19 has complicated, interrupted and even blocked the grieving process. Funerals and Celebration of Life gatherings are forbidden, since they are considered potential "super-spreaders."

Until about 10 months ago, whenever someone died there were usually rituals and traditions to honour the dead and support the grieving. 

While there are religious differences at grief time, there are many commonalities, such as people dropping off flowers, food and cards of condolence to the grieving family. 

There are things we can do to help one another ​​​​​...- John Oldham

There was a funeral service or gathering to celebrate the life of the loved one; either in a religious setting, a community hall, funeral home chapel, etc. People would arrive with cards of sympathy as they signed the guest book. Favourite hymns were sung, special recordings were played. People shared stories, memories and tributes. Often there was a collage of photos and memorabilia, triggering tears and laughter. 

Perhaps there was a religious officiant offering prayers and a message. A reception would follow where more stories were shared during refreshments. Friends and relatives often came from a distance. There was reunion and the healing therapy of hugs.

Spiritual healing

But the pandemic changed all that, conflicting with the emotional and spiritual healing of the grieving process. Sure, there are still obituaries, but as one grieving widow asked me very recently, "How can you put the essence of a person into a few short paragraphs?"

There are things we can do to help one another go through the tunnel of grieving -- and  hopefully enter some light at the end of the darkness and depression. 

We can still send a card in the mail or leave it at the door. And if we cannot buy a card due to lockdown, we can make one and write some words of encouragement in a letter or an email.  

Let the tears of sadness and happy memories flow like a healing river...- John Oldham

One can visit from a safe distance and wearing masks (as my wife and I did the other day)..

One can drop off some flowers (if you can obtain some during lockdown), leave a casserole or fresh baking!  

We can be creative in how we show empathy and compassion.         

Have a Zoom Celebration/Gathering via computer. You can have a reader or two, selected music and people sharing memories, with photos and candles. We share in Zoom worship and chat time every Sunday and it is emotionally and spiritually uplifting.

There are specific things a grieving person can do as a tribute to their loved one who has died.

With Kleenex in one hand and a glass of a favourite drink in another, one can raise a glass and toast your spouse, partner, child —  whomever has died. Browse through photo albums, either in binders or on your computer. Write in a diary or a journal your personal thoughts and feelings during this wounded heart time. 

That can be therapeutic. 

Place photos of them in a special place in the home with some special objects nearby, like a golf club, a curling symbol, a paddle, a crossword puzzle, a deck of cards, a hammer or an apron. 

Religious tradition

If you have a religious tradition, read from the Bible or another source of poetic or inspirational material.  Psalm 23 in the Hebrew writings is a favourite for a lot of Christians. Play some favourite music. Let the tears of sadness and happy memories flow like a healing river, leading to the ocean of serenity of soul and strength of spirit.

Going through loss is hard any time, but especially on birthdays, anniversaries and religious high holidays. You can embrace the spirituality of grieving, even during pandemic times. You can grow through the stages of letting go of a loved one and placing them in a special room in your heart. You can, through your personal faith and the support of family and friends, move on, however hesitantly, into a new chapter of your life. 

May you have good grief, even with pandemic restrictions, as you make the best of it:

" For Love and Light are what we need, for self and others grieving,

as we affirm the good news that there's hope through our believing."

This column is part of CBC's Opinion section. For more information about this section, please read this editor's blog and our FAQ.

 

About the Author

John Wesley Oldham worked for the United Church as a minister for 30 years until, he says, his "liberation from bondage to organized religion" 20 years ago. He is a published song/hymn writer and poet of spiritual reflections. At 75, he values his time in the inspiring Cathedral of Mother Nature, either Nordic (pole) walking or in a canoe.

now