Covid-19: Redefining Grief During Covid-19
Who would have thought that we will all wake up to a new reality that the Covid-19 pandemic is spreading like wildfire and affecting people all around the world?
During the Covid-19 pandemic, losses can be categorized into Covid-19 deaths and the non-Covid-19 deaths. During this time disenfranchised grief is recognised as a risk factor as the loss is not socially recognised, openly acknowledged or publicly mourned.
Grief After an Unexpected Death
Grief experience during the pandemic is rather complicated as death can occur unexpectedly; patient visits are not allowed or restricted to one visitor at any point of time and only for a short duration, with full PPE and no physical contact such as holding of hands even for non-Covid-19 patients. The guilt and stigma that arise causes mental and emotional stress to the individuals, families, and health care providers.
Death resulting from Covid-19 can cause Traumatic grief as it is unnatural to the survivors, who are in shock and are unable to make sense of what has happened. Forced separation during the sickness and dying process further increases the guilt, grief and anxiety as patients die alone as they are unable to be by their side.
Loss of Traditions
In the event of pandemic and social distancing, traumatic grief becomes disenfranchised grief. The socially accepted ways of grieving and mourning did not take place (gathering for funerals/wakes, visitation which provides comfort in meaningful ways), when the loss experience is unsupported and the emotional consequences include additional anxiety, a feeling of isolation, a sense of abandonment, and misunderstanding of many kinds.
The Bollywood industry recently mourned the death of Irfan Khan and Rishi Kapoor during this pandemic due to cancer. However, there was a lack of physical presence and mourning at their funerals as most of the world was under enforced social distancing, travel limitations and gatherings at funeral. Family members and close friends that were unable to attend the funeral had to resort to virtual streaming. During this period, individuals may experience anger and grief at their inability to mourn with the family as there is lack of physical contact and support and above all, guilt as their loved ones do not get the rites they deserve. In such instance, the promise of a memorial service after the crisis may help ease the grief and guilt experienced by the families.
Signs of Other Grief
Loss of a beloved partner through divorce, separation or non-Covid-19 death is equally traumatic but is undermined by the actual Covid-19 deaths during this pandemic and as such those grieving are disenfranchised. Non-death losses during the pandemic such as loss of income and employment, loss of educational opportunities, loss of social freedom, loss of collective gatherings in religious, sports activities, family gatherings, lack of routine and connection are often disenfranchised.
Ways to Cope
Hence caring for oneself is the key aspect of bereavement. Apart from regular exercise, eating a well-balanced diet and adequate rest on our part, virtual connectivity with families and religious meetings and support groups on virtual platforms has kept many of us strong, and motivated. Family members are creating groups to keep in touch with one another through messaging and video calling. Religious groups are uploading videos and live streaming sermons to motivate and strengthen our beliefs. The government has not only allowed access to unlimited free music, free reading materials and television programmes but also activated a group of volunteers via a 24-hour helpline to help individuals cope effectively with stress and emotional distress during this time.
It’s okay to grief during this pandemic.
Stay safe and healthy.
Ms. Kirti Dodani (Counsellor)
Doka, K. J. (2020, Apr 7). Grief in the Midst of COVID-19. Psychology Today Singapore. https://www.psychologytoday.com/sg/blog/good-mourning/202004/grief-in-the-midst-covid-19
Tai, J. (2020, Apr 26). Changing face of funerals amid Covid-19 circuit breaker rules. The Straits Times. https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/changing-face-of-funerals