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Remembering A Life Blog

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Are You Muted? Unmute Yourself!

What words describe 2020 for you? Closed. Cancelled. Isolated. “You’re muted.” If you haven't had a loved one get sick or die during the COVID-19 pandemic, you may not recognize our society is grieving enormous losses: loss of loved ones, loss of livelihoods, loss of lifestyles. What does pandemic grief look like? I have first-hand experience with major life changes because of the pandemic.

I have spent a lot – and I mean a lot – of time with my kids over the last 18 months. From one moment to the next last winter, they went from small humans I loved spending evenings and weekends with outside of work hours to 24/7 constant companions – as the months of quarantine ticked by, they were my coworkers, virtual schooling students, the only friends I saw IRL besides my husband oh, and also, my kids.  One might hope that spending so much time together has taught us everything we need to know about each other. But as you probably know, we have been in deer-in-the-headlights mode for such a long time now, and every time we think we are on the cusp of a respite, the goal posts move. So sure, I’ve spent a lot of time with them. But I can’t really call all of it “quality;” it’s more logistical, hectic, and frequently stressed. And most of the time, finding moments to have meaningful conversations is something that requires planning.

Over this past year, I’ve witnessed extensive frustration amongst bereaved persons who struggle with making the “right choice” in planning funeral services for their loved ones in these difficult times. Beginning in March, I advised grievers to try to reframe their thinking from finding “the right choice” into making the “right choice for you,” while including technological means of adapting to restrictions. By May, when it became clear that this public health crisis was not going to be resolved within a few months, I also began encouraging grievers to think instead about making the “right choice for now” and then the “right choice for later.”   Additionally, I always tell grieving families that regardless of the service they planned during this year – a private burial, a small funeral with virtual attendees, or no service at all – it is never too late to hold a memorial service for their loved one, regardless of whether or not they already held a funeral.

Love and loss are inextricably linked phenomena. Without one, we do not truly experience the other. In this year of mourning, we must remember and hold fast to love – both the love we shared with those who have died, as well as the love we give to and receive from those who bring joy to our lives.

A Look at Loneliness

The COVID-19 pandemic has increased our awareness of the problem of loneliness. We were lonely before the novel coronavirus arose, and we’re even lonelier since routine social distancing, isolation, and quarantining became unfortunate necessities. Today loneliness is a crisis that cuts across cultures, continents, and classes. Britain has added a Minister for Loneliness to its federal government. In the United States, thirty-five percent of adults over the age of 45 report feeling lonely. In one recent Cigna survey, over half of Americans said they always or sometimes feel that no one knows them well. And young people are lonely, too. Some studies have found that Millennials and Generation Z are the loneliest of all.

Waking Up to Gratitude

Before COVID-19 changed all of our lives, my busy travel and teaching schedule had me hopping. Most mornings after I woke up, I went straight to work. I had a love-hate relationship with the adrenaline of stress. I was a slave to emails, itineraries, deadlines, and flight schedules. Now I’m in limbo. With most of my presentations postponed or canceled, I’m home. I have time to linger over my morning cup of coffee. I have time to breathe and to think. I have time to marvel at the sunrise.

For many caregivers, COVID-19 has been a nonstop wrecking ball. It has swung back and forth across the globe, decimating families and communities. And who’s there in the midst of the ongoing crisis, providing care to the hundreds of thousands of sick, dying, dead, and grieving people? The professional caregivers. The nurses, long-term care workers, doctors, funeral directors, hospice staff, social workers, EMTs, and other critical frontline workers whose vocations place them squarely in the wrecking ball’s path.

I’m a longtime grief counselor and educator, and as you might expect, I talk to lots of people about all kinds of life losses. In recent months I’m hearing that COVID-19 has become a daunting challenge for just about everyone. Not only have stay-at-home and work-at-home protocols isolated people physically and socially, but the uncertainty of illness, financial jeopardy, and an unforeseeable future are making it hard for many to cope. Essentially, people are grieving. Anxiety and depression, especially—which are normal, necessary grief responses—are epidemic. While grief is absolutely natural in the face of these unprecedented circumstances and daily losses, it’s also something that demands compassionate, proactive care.

My first grandchild was born in early 2020, right as the COVID-19 pandemic was gaining momentum. I got a social-distancing, several-feet-away peek at him early on, but then we were kept apart for three long months out of an abundance of caution that his mom (my daughter), 60-something me, and the healthy-but-vulnerable newborn all stayed safe. As the shelter-in-place weeks slogged by, I found myself more and more impatient to hold the little guy. Like so many people the world over, I was becoming touch deprived.

The pandemic has created unusually complicated death and grief circumstances for many people personally affected by COVID-19. If someone you love has died from the novel coronavirus, you have certain “rights” that no one can take away from you. This list is intended both to empower you to heal in ways that work for you, and to decide how others can and cannot help.