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So many people are grieving in isolation during this pandemic. While each death is an individual family’s loss, there is also a collective need to acknowledge how COVID-19 has affected the grieving process.
Many of us will be dealing not just with lockdown stress and anxiety about finances, with worrying about having enough money to feed our families, with loneliness and all manner of other horrendous issues, but also with sudden grief.
And, of course, COVID-19 not only means you may not be able to see a loved one before they die, when they are suffering, but cruelly it doesn’t even allow you to have a proper funeral or be with your wider family or friends to grieve or even, for those living alone, to have a desperately needed hug. Everything is on pause and no-one knows for how long. The fear is that the whole world will have moved on while you are still nowhere near coming to terms with what has happened.
We had to go to our local funeral director’s last week to pick up my daughter’s ashes. My daughter died in February after being hit by a speeding car. The funeral directors told us about having to pick up countless bodies and tell distressed relatives that they could not see the body because of the risk of infection. All coffins have to be sealed. The funeral workers have to wear protective clothing that they have had to source themselves. And, of course, only a handful of people can attend funerals.
We were lucky in that we had our daughter’s funeral just before lockdown and, of course, she didn’t die of COVID-19, but COVID-19 has been the background to our grieving. I worry that people were perhaps infected at the funeral. I worry that I haven’t seen my mum since the funeral and she is grieving all on her own. I worry that my kids have no other support but us during this time and that they have, like much of the country, shut down, at least for the foreseeable future.
I worry that me being upset is stopping them from grieving and yet that not showing that emotion would be the wrong thing too. I worry that they are up half the night because they cannot sleep for thinking about her, but find it too, too painful to even mention her name to us, let alone access any online resources. I worry both that this isolation will never end and also that it will end and no-one will remember my daughter because so many awful things will have happened in between. I worry both that we will never be able to move on from this and that we will move on.
My dad died the week after my daughter – again not of COVID-19. I have not even begun to grieve for him. His wife is stranded in the UK because she came for our daughter’s funeral. And this COVID-19 lockdown means that we have to face the sentencing of the person who killed my daughter not knowing if we can attend. Perhaps we can do it remotely, like we did my dad’s funeral. I have been redrafting the impact statement for the sentencing over the past week and I want to say it to the person who killed my daughter. I don’t really care about the sentence. I just want him to know what he has done and I want to be the one who tells him what she meant to us.
We brought my daughter’s ashes home and people keep asking me what we are going to do with them. I cannot even begin to think, even if we were able to go anywhere to spread them. It is hard enough just putting them in her room. I am doing telephone counselling. I’ve done some yoga with a friend. And, of course, we are having a lot of family time together. I sometimes feel I can get through this, my body seems to have a limit on how much it can grieve and it gives me hours when I am numb and can get on with life almost as normal, but then at night it just takes me over.
Sometimes people say they want the world to stop when someone they love dies. But surely not like this. At some point when all this is over we will all hold our individual, delayed memorials, but the terrible collective grief associated with this period must surely be acknowledged somehow and we must comfort each other as best we can.