Saskatoon

Grieving during COVID-19: How to cope in isolation

December has been a dark month in Saskatchewan’s battle with COVID-19. Of the 118 people that have died so far after testing positive for the illness, 71 died in December — about 60 per cent.

Counsellor Robert Braid says connecting with others one of the most impactful things one can do

Being unable to gather as we usually do during times of grief can be especially difficult, says counsellor Robert Braid. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

December has been a dark month in Saskatchewan's battle with COVID-19.

Of the 118 people that have died so far after testing positive for the illness, 71 died in December — about 60 per cent.

If you're grieving right now, you're not alone.

But the death of a loved one isn't the only loss that could be causing grief, according to counsellor Robert Braid, who specializes in grief and loss.

"There's just so much, so much loss right now," said Braid, who's also practising as an end-of-life doula.

"The loss of normalcy, the loss of routine, the loss of community, the loss of connection, kind of, the loss of face-to-face interaction, the loss of freedom to just do whatever it is that you'd like to do from moment to moment."

People have also lost many of their coping mechanisms, Braid said, and that means many people are having to face "undigested" grief and emotions.

"The routine way of living prior to all of this allows people a lot of opportunities to distract themselves from … undigested grief or some other things that they just might not want to be feeling."

With fewer distractions, some people have had to face those emotions that they may have been avoiding, Braid said.

118 deaths and counting

This month, there have only been three days so far where no deaths related to COVID-19 were reported — Dec. 5, 11 and 16.

Braid said seeing these numbers can remind people that life isn't permanent, which can create a sense of fear.

"[It] reminds people that ultimately this all comes to an end for all of us," Braid said.

"It is just the fear of death and it's just this constant reminder right now that we will die. Everyone we know and love will also die, and we do not know when."

This chart shows the cumulative number of deaths from COVID-19 in Saskatchewan from August through to Dec. 20. On Aug. 4, there were 18 total deaths. On Dec. 20, there were 118. (Supplied by the Government of Saskatchewan)

He said the way to address this fear is to start with acknowledging your relationship with death.

"It's scary to think about the fact that we're going to die some day," he said.

"That is a scary thing — and I think that it serves us to become a little bit more familiar with that fear and to become a little bit more acquainted with it — and because I think the more that we can do that, the more that we can maybe not be so governed by it."

It's also important to be kind, compassionate and gentle toward yourself, Braid said.

Make connections and get outside

Braid noted that it's an especially difficult time to be dealing with the death of a loved one because many of the supports we usually have in such situations aren't there, like having a funeral, or being surrounded by friends and family.

If you're in a position where you might be feeling afraid or dealing with grief, Braid said you may choose to talk to a professional, but one of the most impactful things you can do is to connect with people in your life.

"Whether that's, you know, an appropriate number of you meeting outside, kind of distanced so that everyone's comfortable and still following guidelines, or whether that's, you know, meeting on Zoom or some online platform."

He also said it's important to get out of the house and take a walk.

"It can be very easy right now to just kind of hole yourself up and, you know, to order everything online and to really not even leave the house. … It can be very supportive and grounding to be out into nature."

(CBC News Graphics)

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ashleigh Mattern is a reporter and copy editor with CBC Saskatoon and CBC Saskatchewan, and an associate producer with Saskatoon Morning and The Morning Edition. She has been working as a journalist since 2007 and joined CBC in 2017. Email: ashleigh.mattern@cbc.ca.

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