Since March last year, over 50 000 South Africans have died of Covid-19. Add to this the normal number of deaths from other diseases, accidents and natural causes, and you realise that hundreds of thousands of people are mourning the loss of loved ones right now.
Coping with grief at any time is distressing. Losing someone during the coronavirus pandemic, whether to COVID-19 or to other causes, brings additional challenges. In cases where the deaths were unexpected and sudden, you might feel shocked and totally unprepared. Apart from the normal feelings of loss and regret, you may also feel guilt and even anger if you were not able to say goodbye, visit your loved one in hospital, or attend the funeral.
Self isolation makes it difficult to find the support and encouragement we need to cope with grief. According to Coralie Deas, South African founder of Griefshare, an international grief support group, “The bereaved need to talk about their loss to sympathetic listeners who really pay attention.” Griefshare has tried to fill that gap by providing online counseling services.
“How a loved one dies has a great effect on the grief recovery journey of the family and friends that remain,” explains Deas. “In cases where people were hospitalised and died alone without the support of their nearest and dearest, the family may have feelings of anger towards the medical staff, the virus, the government and the situation itself.”
Understanding what happened to your loved one in those last days and weeks may help. Speak to the health workers who cared for him or her in the hospital – they may have some special memory of your loved one, or something he or she said, that will bring you enormous comfort.
Grief is a unique journey
Losing a loved one affects everyone differently; there is no right or wrong way to feel. Don’t measure your feelings and reactions against those of others. Everyone works through grief in their own way.
It is important to take care of yourself and your health. Try and get enough sleep and avoid using alcohol and other substances to relieve your grief.
Do not try to hide your feelings. The sadness you feel and the tears you shed are necessary to promote the healing process. Do not deny these feelings, whether privately or in the comfort of family and friends. Crying is a stress reliever and an endorphin releaser that will make you feel better. Talk through your difficult emotions with loved ones.
Grief counseling or joining an online support group, where you can discuss your experiences and feelings with others who understand, can be a huge comfort. Contact the Bereavement Helpline on 082 925 5938 or 079 872 6408.
Remember that grief is a natural and ongoing response to loss. Learning to live with the loss means deciding what your life without your loved one looks like. If you didn’t have a chance to say goodbye, you can still do so. Find a quiet time to be alone and talk to your loved one as if he or she is there. Some people prefer to write letters to the deceased, expressing how they feel. Others take solace in their faith and the counsel of a religious leader.
Although you need to give yourself time and space to grieve, it’s also important to carry on with everyday life. Do not be afraid to return to normality. Your loved one would want you to enjoy life and make the most of its opportunities. It’s not disloyal to laugh again, and to feel moments of enjoyment and pleasure even though your loved one is no longer there to share them.
Celebrate your loved one’s life
While it is important to grieve the loss of a loved one, do not forget to cherish his or her life. Consider creating a scrapbook with your children, using photographs and treasured memories to honour your loved one’s life. Or you could arrange for a lasting memorial – such as an inscribed bench – to be placed in a favourite spot. Visiting this place on the anniversary of their death each year, to sit quietly and ‘talk’ to them, is a tradition that can bring great comfort.
Death is a sad occasion. However, in time, you will come to realise that it can also lead to a celebration of a life, a revisiting of joyful memories shared with a special person that you will treasure for the rest of your life.