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Care for the Family: Supporting those Grieving During the Pandemic

By Gill Nichol | 31 July 2020

 

In mid-July, around two weeks after lockdown was first eased, my elderly, much loved uncle was admitted to hospital as a day patient for a routine operation. He was expected home at 2pm. But at 2pm he was still in theatre, with surgeons dealing with a serious and unexpected turn of events. My uncle was rushed to ICU. The prognosis was bleak – we were told ‘to hope for the best but prepare for the worst’.

 

The news left me reeling. Like most my age, people I’ve loved have died. The Covid-19 pandemic led many of us to seriously contemplate our own mortality in a way that perhaps we have not done before, yet, here I was, shocked beyond measure to be contemplating my uncle’s death mid-pandemic.  

 

With Covid-19 deaths nearing 47,000, hundreds of thousands of people will have had similar experiences to mine: unexpectedly facing the death of a loved one amid rules and regulations preventing hospital visits, and limiting the size of funerals. For all who have lost a loved one during these times, whether as a result of Covid-19 or not, the way of grief has been harder. 

 

Care for the Family – a Christian charity that has been at the forefront of bereavement support for the past 25 years – began focusing on the specific impact of Covid-related deaths in February, several weeks before lockdown was imposed. Paula Pridham, their Executive Director, says: “For most people the grief journey has massively changed in lockdown. How do you grieve when you can’t go to a funeral? How do you cope when social distancing or shielding rules mean you can’t attend the funeral or even see and embrace other mourners? If it’s your partner that’s died, and you’re newly living alone with no one to hug you, it’s really tough.”

 

Yet, at a time when need was rising exponentially, lockdown meant an immediate change in the way support could be delivered. Among the services offered by Care for the Family are courses to train churches how to improve their pastoral care and support around bereavement, and a phone careline – lockdown meant the face-to-face courses were a no-go and the phone started to ring off the hook. 

 

With no extra financial resources immediately available, Care for the Family were delighted to receive a one-off grant from Stewardship, which was specifically for the work the charity was doing in the light of the pandemic. Paula Pridham said: “The grant enabled us not only to convert the existing course materials to online versions and to train our facilitators to deliver the courses online, it also enabled us to grow our phone-based support team by employing more counsellors. It was transformative – and we know we’ve reached people that we otherwise would not have reached.

 

She continues: “Death is still a taboo subject; people don’t like to face their own mortality. Perhaps that will start to change as a result of Covid. We try to medicalise grief, but you can’t. You can’t avoid the grieving process: it has to be faced and sometimes you need a bit of help to do that.”

For those who have not lost a loved one in recent months but are supporting people who have, what can we do?  It’s easy to think that, even as lockdown eases, social distancing and travel restrictions mean we can’t do much. But we can and we must.

 

If you’re unsure of how best to help, this short film about being bereaved during the pandemic, produced by Loss and Hope, gives a simple, yet brilliant three-point action plan to help you: Contact (dare to get in touch); listen (acknowledge the loss, don’t give solutions) and bless (shower the bereaved with kindness and offer practical help).

 

Many working in this field are predicting that autumn will see the start of a huge increase in mental health issues around grief and loss – charities are hoping for government acknowledgement and funding but they also want everyone who needs help to know it’s there. Care for the Family’s covid-19 web pages are an excellent place to start, as are those of the charities listed below.

 

And what next for my uncle? At the time of writing he was back home with my auntie caring for him. He’s weak but getting stronger, and we’re all hoping that, in the next few weeks, his consultant will pronounce him strong enough for that routine op that would significantly improve his quality of life. 

 

My uncle’s brush with death at the exact time I was working on this blog made me doubly aware of how important it is to be able to say goodbye properly, to visit loved ones in hospital, to grieve with others and to attend the funeral. Care for the Family are a small charity that were under my radar. But if my uncle had died and I’d been unable to attend the funeral or mourn with my family, I’d have wanted to call one of their counsellors. 

 

I thank God I didn’t need to, but now I want to support them financially. Money’s ability to change lives has rarely felt so pertinent.


Support charities working in this area:

Care for the Family

Loss and Hope

Ataloss.org

Samaritans

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