Trigger Warning: topics containing suicide.
Grief and loss during a pandemic
I lost my son, mum and dad within seven months in late 2020 and early 2021. I have only known grief and loss in a pandemic. I think unless you have been in this position it is hard to comprehend the added complexity that the pandemic has brought.
My son’s loss to suicide was at the start of September 2020. England was returning to lockdown as Covid cases were rising and new restrictions were being implemented. The immediate impact of navigating the challenges while arranging a funeral and wake were hugely stressful. What I didn’t consider at the time were the longer term implications of loss in a pandemic situation too.
At a time of shock, anxiety and pure bewilderment we had to navigate a child’s funeral against the backdrop of a pandemic. We anxiously watched government press conferences, eager to know how they would impact the funeral, praying the changes wouldn’t affect us. Who would have contemplated that Boris Johnson’s daily news conference would have such relevance after my child’s death?
Would funeral numbers drop from 30? Could we have a wake and where? Could family travel from abroad?
The fear of contracting Covid was also very real. The worry that you might miss your own child’s funeral was sickening.
Funeral choices. So 30 people at a funeral was confirmed. How do you choose? The initial selections were straightforward but we have a large family. Who needed lifts? Who needed the support of others to attend? Brutal decisions. Few partners. No future boasts of 400 people and a funeral bursting at the seams for us.
Zoom at a funeral? When first suggested, it filled me with horror. I was used to this platform being used at work or for a family lockdown quiz. It felt alien to consider it for my child’s last journey. I had watched a funeral on Zoom and felt an intruder to the family’s grief. We did not use it for Samuel but it did feel appropriate for my mum’s funeral. We had family in Ireland, in the US and my daughter in Amsterdam watch the services via Zoom. My daughter later described the strangeness of watching from her living room, seeing her family on screen and being alone with her grief.
We missed many of the rituals that are associated with loss. There were no mass outpourings of grief with people coming to pay their respects. Very few came to the house, just immediate family. I had some awkward doorstep conversations as crossing the threshold was against the rules. Vulnerable grandparents so in need of support were left to grieve alone, fearful of contracting Covid, in pre-vaccination times.
The funeral rituals were impacted too. No touching or carrying the coffin was allowed for Samuel’s funeral. The funeral director told us she would turn a blind eye when we wanted to place our white roses on his coffin.
No singing, just piped music. Taped off seats suggesting a crime scene. Hand sanitiser instead of holy water. The stark reality of Covid-safe measures when even sitting alongside your family was frowned upon. Who would have thought formal funeral wear would include face masks?
Longer term impact
The ritual of people across your community attending a funeral, saying goodbye, honouring the loss and respecting the family have not happened. I had no friends at any of these funerals. That lack of connectivity is stark. Few people heard my heartfelt eulogy or my children’s tribute to their brother. They subsequently lacked appreciation of the impact of these losses and missed the opportunity to honour my child or my parents. As such, it’s been very lonely.
We only had one of my son’s friends at his funeral. His teenage peers had no ritual, no saying goodbye, no closure at all. I often think of the impact on them going forward and I worry about their mental health.
On a final note
There have been some benefits to grieving in a pandemic it has to be said. There has been a general feeling of reduced pressure, a country in lockdown has felt different, quieter or surreal even. People weren’t ‘teasing’ us by going about their lives or having fun.
There has not been pressure to widely mix or socialise so we could contain and protect ourselves. In the shorter term we have been grateful of this. The longer term impact for us and those vulnerable teenage friends might be harder to predict.
Thank you so much to Suzanne for this beautiful submission. Thank you for writing with such depth to truly explain for experience during this pandemic. I speak for everyone, when I say this was an honour to read.
To read more from Suzanne, you can visit her website here: www.coachingafterloss.com