When we used to live a “normal” life before COVID-19 ruled every inch of our world, the newly bereaved were well supported in their immediate days of grief. A funeral was held, flowers were sent, long hugs were accepted, as well as appreciated, and casseroles were made without the added side dish of angst and worry.
This was the support I thrived off of following the death of my own daughter. And to be quite frank, I don’t think I could have made it in my walk without my loved ones, their embrace, or the endless amounts of hash brown casserole they made. They were my comfort when I needed it the most, the tear-stains that dampened my shoulders, and the tight squeeze around my torso when there were just no words left to speak.
But we are living in an unprecedented time right now. A season where hundreds of thousands of people are dying and countless others are left to grieve without the privilege of attending or being able to mourn at a proper funeral.
In every single way, the COVID-19 pandemic has single-handedly broken America’s traditional way to grieve.
There is never a “good time” for death to strike, but there is a horrible time, and we’re living it right now. Particularly in larger cities of the U.S. where coronavirus cases and deaths are at the highest, much like New York City, morgues are already reaching their full capacity. It’s not out of the ordinary for wait times from a person’s death to the start of their funeral to exceed one week under normal situations. But because of the coronavirus, these wait times are now longer. Depending on the condition of the body with these added days, families may have to forego their original plans of an open-casket funeral.
For some, this can feel like they’ve lost their family member or close friend all over again. Because while there are some who prefer closed caskets for their own reasons, or have no other choice in the matter, a great many individuals look forward to seeing the deceased one last time and perceive it as a moment that can help kickstart a portion of their healing. By allowing families to take part in these preparations by choosing what they desire out of a funeral and burial, the living are able to pour out their love one last time onto the deceased.
But right now, grief support and funeral options are slim. In some areas of the world, funerals have been banned altogether. And because of the rules of social distancing, services cannot exceed more than 10 people in America. Rows of chairs where the bereaved once mourned in unison are now empty, and the only service which everyone can be included in is one that is livestreamed through a screen.
Death, sickness, sadness, and heartache have become an all-consuming fire to our world… one that only fuels our anxiety alongside the rise of this curve. So it’s only natural that, after some time, those who are not in mourning would become almost numb to it all. Those who haven’t felt the loneliness of death personally in the middle of a pandemic might become “used to” the tragedy that surrounds them daily yet fails to affect them directly.
But if we want to support those who are grieving, we can’t allow ourselves to fall into the pattern of turning away from another’s pain.
Bereaved family members and friends deserve the freedom to mark the significant life which was lived and now lost. Instead, they are grieving in an unknown land without the options so many others before them took for granted. So as a country, as family members, and even as friends, we have to make a point of supporting these people while still adhering to the rules of social distancing.
We shouldn’t expect to “fix” their pain, because we can’t, but we can show them that we will see them through it, no matter how long it takes.
We’re living in times most of us have never seen before, but that doesn’t stop us from picking up a phone. FaceTime, Zoom, and other social platforms providing video or audio messaging are all useful tools we can utilize to communicate with the bereaved and help them feel validated in their grief.
Mailing routes haven’t stopped, so for the love, send them a card or have your small children doodle one up for them. A simple “my heart is with you” is a quick and easy way to let them know that, though everybody is struggling right now more than ever, you are making extra space specifically for them and their pain.
Offer to pick up their groceries and then drop them off on the front porch (and please get them some paper plates that they don’t have to wash). If you’re financially able, ask them if they need help buying the necessities. Or, better yet, don’t ask; just surprise them with home goods or a gift card sent to their house. Because although we are in the middle of a pandemic, a time where funerals and burials aren’t happening in the same way they once were, burying an immediate family member is still a financial burden on so many.
If the bereaved have children, send them some in-home activities they can do with or without their parents. Chances are likely that this quarantine hasn’t been much fun when there are people in the house who are incredibly sad and filled with so much grief. And who knows? Your small gift could offer the first happy times their entire household has seen in awhile.
People need people under any conditions, but especially during their grief. Mourning in social isolation is the worst place for the bereaved to be. So it doesn’t matter what you do to support them, as long as you are continuing to support them. Grab a lawn chair and sit on their front porch while they stay inside and reminisce on the happy and sad memories of the one who is missing. Ask them for digital photos and create a sentimental video for them in honor of the deceased.
And above all, love on your grieving friends and family… even if it must be done from six feet away.