In an article titled, “There is no vaccine for grief” Maxine Rattner and Marney Thompson write, “While grief itself isn’t a mental-health condition, unsupported grief can turn into one, such as depression and suicidal thinking. And due to the circumstances of COVID, the risk is far higher that grief won’t be supported.”
Andrea Warnick, an educator, registered psychotherapist, nurse and thanatologist was interviewed about grief during COVID on Canada Talks. She describes the challenge to convince people to take the space to grieve – to make space for the difficult feelings. And she emphasized the importance of allowing oneself to have those difficult feelings. She stressed the importance that even during, perhaps especially during COVID, that people need to connect, share stories, invite stories,… even if we can only do so online.
The Canadian Grief Alliance has called on the federal government to identify the gaps, the best practices, to develop a national public awareness campaign to help people know about loss, grief and to learn what tends to be helpful/not helpful. In Canada there has been an increase in funding for mental health during covid, but there is a great need for grief specific funding, Some of the strategies for mental health issues do not apply to those who are grieving. For example, “thinking positive thoughts” may not be the best strategy when one needs to find space to cry and allow sadness.
“Never in our lifetimes has Canada experienced the volume and complexity of grief as has resulted from the COVID-19 pandemic.(Canadian Grief Alliance)
Canadians have been robbed of goodbyes with dying friends and family or people they care about and forced to grieve in isolation without funeral rites. They and those working on the front lines of health care are at heightened risk for prolonged, complicated grief marked by depression, and the risk of suicide. Existing grief services are fragmented, under-funded and insufficient. Left unaddressed, significant long-term social, health and economic impacts will result.” Canadian Grief Alliance
What are your thoughts on this? How have you seen COVID affect grief in your lives and community?
I wrote this reflection on Jan 31 ,2020, a year and a week after our son Geordie died,
At this one year mark, I #GIVETHANKS for family, friends and colleagues who supported and encouraged us, buoyed us up, laughed and cried with us, mourned with us, and comforted us. They are all excellent examples of #CompassionateCommunities and of #Griefliteracy.
As I look back on this year, I consider that this year was a time to cry ( #TIMETOCRY ) – this was a year of sorrow. I allowed myself to feel it, embrace it, go with the flow – go with the flood of tears. This first year was my time to cry. There were times when I did not cry, and there were times when tears came frequently and in abundance. And there were times when I laughed and cried at the same time.
I like the idea that tears wash out toxic waste – that must make me pretty clean!!
The metaphor of helping large physical wounds to heal can help us understand ways to support a person to heal following loss.
The healing of large open wounds (for example pressure sores caused by lying in one position for too long) can be facilitated by:
- allowing the open wound to heal from the base up (vs trying to suture the edges together as one would with an incision),
- permitting the serous fluids produced at the site to moisten the wound bed,
- providing the person with good nutrition, and
- positioning the person to avoid direct pressure on or near the wound.
Grief is a whole person, natural process by which a person adapts to life without the person/object that has been lost. Grief is the healing process. Like wounds, grief may be supported by:
- allowing the wound caused by the loss to remain open, to not try to cover it up, suture it up, and fix it quickly. In other words, allowing the wound to heal from the inside out.
- allowing sorrow to be felt and experienced and allowing tears to flow. Perhaps tears also provide nourishment to our soul.
- providing good nutrition – providing healthy food, casseroles, salad, nourishing drinks support the griever to do the work of grieving,
- permitting, encouraging time away, away from work, away from major stresses (compassionate leave) and decreases pressure on the whole person supporting healing.
Being open to the sorrow, permitting tears to flow, striving to eat (or provide) healthy foods, have all helped this year in healing my wounds, in grieving my loss.
Moving into year two
And now… As I move into year two from Geordie’s death…On a head level I am hoping that I will cry less and feel less sorrow in the coming months. (A counsellor smiled when I said this and suggested to me that that might not be possible. That I may not have control over that sorrow :)) But, I would like to give it a try. (Perhaps you, like the counsellor are thinking, “Well good luck with that Kath! You do not get to choose!”)
In scriptures there are references to learning that happens “in your heart and in your mind.” I sometimes joke that “my head got the memo that Geordie is just fine in this place of life after death but my heart did not yet receive the memo – hence the tears”. So, perhaps this year, I will see about helping my heart get the memo.
My plan of the moment is this: When I am talking or reflecting and find myself starting to cry, then I will ask myself if this conversation or this reflection is helpful and if I want to “go there”. I will ask myself if I want to cry or if another road might work better for me in that moment. If I want to take a different road, I will breathe deep, change my tone, speak from my head and not my heart, and continue with that conversation…. OR …. I will suggest that we change the topic or change the reflection.
One week into this plan I am finding that asking myself these questions is giving me options, and allow me an escape from the ongoing sorrow.
In defense of tears…. I need to be very clear…
It is not that I think that crying is bad, or that tears are bad! Not at all!! As I mentioned above, tears can help provide moisture and nourishment. And I am queen of crying! It is just that crying can feel soooo exhausting. And sorrow is so sad…. and for a while I would like to try something else. Geordie was all about living fully, and facing life head on. So, in the coming weeks/months I will just remember that I may have a choice to cry or not to cry, to talk or not to talk, to reflect or not to reflect…. and can chose what would be the best for me at that time.
I #GIVETHANKS for friends and family who have permitted me to cry as much as I like over this past year and they encourage me to continue to cry as long as I need/want to.
I #GIVETHANKS for those who have expressed appreciation for my sharing of my grief and have allowed me to be open in my grief.
This posting today, is one step in this journey. And tomorrow I may be writing again about the benefits of tears, and a year from now I may write that my second year after Geordie’s death was just as sad as my first….and you my friends and colleagues will get to witness that grief has it’s own timeline…
All the best to each of you in grieving, learning, loving and living. May you be supported in #compassionatecommunities. #griefliteracy.
Hugs from a virtual distance – with hopes for more hugs in person by the end of 2021!
NB: This is a personal note, shared in a professional space.
Thank you for the notes, emails, thoughts, calls and concern shared since we notified you of the death of our son last month.
I was concerned that some newsletter recipients might feel that it was too personal to share, but I am such a believer in the power of community. One nurse leader/educator wrote that she was inspired by our generosity in sharing with the learning community that we have nurtured. Thank you. I believe and have experienced that when we mourn with those who mourn and comfort those who stand in need of comfort, that we are all strengthened. I understand that the word “comfort” means, “with strength” or “great strength”. We have felt stronger in connection than we would in isolation. Thank you for sharing our burden.
Interesting, that same nurse educator commented on our commitment to optimizing end-of-life care. Over the years I have taught how “end-of-life care” can mean everything or nothing, where hospice and palliative care by definition include “care during bereavement.” Over the years I would say that we might first meet a family in the ER when their loved one has died, and the hospice or palliative care that we provide could be a link to bereavement services. Even in all the talk that I do about death, I did not contemplate that it would be us who would experience a sudden death, that it would be me who would need to be reminded of bereavement services. And it was a few weeks after Geordie died that I remembered,
Oh, VICTORIA HOSPICE – we should check out their services for the grandkids and for us!”
And, how incredible to phone, and make an appointment for myself, and an appointment for a grandson to see a dear colleague Allyson, a specialist with kids and grief. And in reaching out to Victoria Hospice, I also reached out to Virtual Hospice and their site for kids grief, and to Andrea Warnick and her podcasts and online support for kids and grief. If anyone is looking for a counsellor who provides online counselling, please let me know. And if you provide online bereavement counselling, please let me know and we will connect you.
For those who are interested in how we are doing, what we are thinking and feeling, please keep reading.
Ted would say that he feels at peace. Some of that peace comes from his belief in eternal life, in the feeling that Geordie is alright, and the hope that he will see him again. Some people express concern that he is “not grieving.” But he IS grieving. He is much more an instrumental griever, and is busy working in Geordie’s workshop, sorting his tools, repairing things that need repairing, building a tool kit for Geordie’s wife and one for the baby, and getting tools and boats and and… and… ready for sale. We were also thrilled to have some of Geordie’s bonus First Nation family join us for dinner last week, and basked in their presence and spirit.
As for me…. Well, I am much more a verbal processor…. And so… I have found healing in: good long walks with friends (one on one), the sharing of stories, experiences, beliefs, hopes, worries and frustrations, meals with loved ones, lying on the couch listening to segments of the recordings of the funeral and of the “Last Night on the Trail” (an evening of story and song), reading cards and emails that have arrived, and last night I wrote Geordie a nice long letter. Overall, I still feel very grateful that we had Geordie for 30 years. I am glad that he did not suffer. At times I am cross, irritated and mad that Geordie who cared for soooo many people was soooo careless with his own safety. I am confident that he learned well how to walk by faith, and love and serve openly and without judgement – perhaps the most important lessons in life. On a practical level, I wonder how things work in the world of spirits, and what he is up to now. I am open to your thoughts if you want to connect with me and share.
I just wrote a Facebook post about social hibernation – and would love to hear your thoughts. That will be added to the blogpost soon.
It is amazing to me to think of the “learning community” that we are blessed to be part of, across Canada, the US and Mexico. Ted and I thank you so much for your words, wishes, hopes and happiness. Please let me know what you do and do not want to hear about in this personal/professional space. I am happy to hear any feedback and advice, happy to have your questions and your comments.
Until next month,
Kath and Ted