During the lockdown, many people will be physically alone, while dealing with grief. In addition to this, they may have been unable to say goodbye to their loved one, as they may have been unable to attend a funeral or memorial ceremony. As a nation, our attendance at funerals, memorials, and wakes may be severely restricted at this time. But as individuals, our support for grieving friends and relatives remains unlimited.
It is natural to want to be with a friend or family member who is grieving, to be there for them, and offer comfort and a hug. But with travel restrictions, self-isolation, and social distancing now in place, that is not currently possible. So, now more than ever, we need to look for new ways to support those we cannot be physically close to while they are grieving, to prevent them from feeling totally isolated.
When supporting someone
People handle grief in different ways. Your grieving friend or relative may react differently from you – and that’s OK. What’s important is that you simply ask what they need from you, and try and provide it as best you can.
Even if you can’t be with someone in person, you can offer a listening ear over the phone, or by video call, text, online chat, or email. Some online chat apps have video messaging services, so you can record a message to send. However you choose to make contact, it can offer comfort and prevent your friend or relative from feeling isolated. When it comes to combating loneliness, studies have shown video calls to be the next best thing after face-to-face interaction. If your loved one isn’t all that tech-savvy, there are plenty of helpful step-by-step articles out there, so you can help set them up.
Grief can affect sleeping patterns and appetite, so encouraging your friend or family member to eat and sleep when they can is another positive thing you can do to support them.
‘It is important to remember that you are not a counsellor or therapist. You are there to provide reassurance, empathetic warmth, and show that someone else cares. You are there to listen, offer practical support, and seek help from others if needed.
- If you are supporting someone remotely, do it somewhere quiet so you will not be interrupted.
- Tell them that their welfare matters; and you are there for them. Ask what they need.
- Ask them gentle questions that help you to check they are safe and shows that you care.
- Focus on practical questions that are not invasive, but show you care. ‘What have you done today?’ ‘What have you eaten?’ ‘Did you get some sleep?’ If there are particular questions you want to ask, write them down before the call so you do not forget.
- Let the conversation flow naturally. Save some questions for later in your conversation so the person you are helping does not feel interrogated.
- A person you are supporting may want to talk about their feelings. Or they may not. Both are ok. Ask questions that give them the choice. ‘Would you like to tell me what you are feeling right now? Or how you felt today?’ ‘I am here to listen if you want to talk to me.’
- Give the person time to speak, or just be quiet. Both may help. Tell them there is no rush. You have time.
- Pauses in the conversation are OK. They help someone to catch their breath, think about something, or have a cry.
- Be supportive by reflecting what they have said back to them. This helps you show you have understood. Avoid interrupting or talking without need.
- You are part of the conversation, and you are a supporter, not a therapist. However, avoid talking about yourself or your own problems. You are supporting them, not the other way around.
- It is important not to judge, nor impose your own beliefs and values. For example, if you have religious beliefs someone else may not share, do not impose them. If the person you are supporting says they believe in an after-life, and you do not, try not to express this.’ Source: suddendeath.org/covid-19-bereavement/advice-for-carers
Dying Matters, the coalition which aims to help people talk more openly about dying, death, and bereavement, say that when it comes to supporting someone who is bereaved:
- It’s better to do something than nothing – to acknowledge loss rather than ignore it
- Look for invitations to talk from the other person. If they start talking about the person who has died, encourage them, even if it seems to make them upset
- Be comforting when opening up the conversation rather business-like
- Try and create an environment where the person has the freedom to talk or not talk, according to what they want.
They have launched their #BeforeTheirTime campaign so people can share their experiences of loss via social media.
If your friend or relative needs practical support to plan a non-religious funeral or memorial ceremony, our celebrants are on hand to help.
During the lockdown, our celebrants can support bereaved people in the following ways:
- Ceremonies for immediate family members
- Online memorial ceremonies
- Deferred memorial ceremonies
- Adding tributes to The Humanist Tribute Archive
You can find a local celebrant via our online map.
- Cruse Bereavement Care – Coronavirus: dealing with bereavement and grief
- Dying Matters – Leaflets and resources
- Griefcast – A podcast that examines the human experience of grief and death – with comedians.
- Refuge in Grief – A website by Megan Devine, a psychotherapist, writer, grief advocate, & communication expert.
- Sudden – Support for suddenly bereaved people and the people caring for them
- The Good Grief Trust – Coronavirus Bereavement Advice