Losing a Loved One

Bereavement during COVID-19

When COVID-19 claims a life, the infectious nature of the disease interferes with familial, cultural, and religious traditions. This can make the loss even more painful for family members and friends.

Grief is the normal response to loss

The physical and emotional separation of family members during COVID-19 may make a death feel “less real.”1 The news may come over the phone, denying people from being at the bedside during their loved one’s final moments. Not being able to “say goodbye” can magnify the loss for some.

Everyone copes differently with grief, depending on their sex, personality, prior experiences, and beliefs.3 Bereavement can envelop every aspect of your being, causing emotional, cognitive, behavioral, social, and spiritual responses, such as:1,3

  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering
  • Feeling emotionally numb, sad, angry, guilty, or lonely
  • Being unable to believe the loss occurred
  • Changes in activity, eating, and sleeping
  • Wanting to be alone or with others
  • Questioning your spiritual beliefs

During COVID-19, people may experience “disenfranchised grief.”1 A person in mourning may feel their pain is unacknowledged, undervalued,or not validated by society.2 With so many rules about limiting exposure and preventing the spread of the illness, families who have been affected by the pandemic may experience blame, guilt, or anger.2 This can amplify a person’s feelings of helplessness and powerlessness.1

Sharing grief

Many cultures and traditions have rituals that allow for “collective grief.” By grieving together physically at a ceremony or service, friends and family members share emotions, memories, and support. During COVID-19, people can grieve together even if they are far apart. Reaching out to friends, family members, and religious leaders through the phone, email, text, or video chat can allow people to mourn together.1

“Grief is the form love takes when someone we love dies…and we need to allow it to find a place in our lives.”

Types of grief reactions

Grieving the loss of a loved one is not predictable or linear. It can take a long time, especially when the death is sudden or dramatic.

Many aspects of the COVID-19 pandemic may strike painful cords for a person in mourning. Media reports about “numbers” may seem to characterize a profound and painful loss as a statistic.2

Complicated grief

When grief lasts a long time, causing ongoing emotional distress,3 it can seem impossible to move on. Intense feelings make it hard to see or do anything associated with the lost loved one. When this happens, treatment may help reduce the symptoms. Complicated grief may be treated with talk therapy. If depression or another mental health condition is occurring alongside complicated grief, a physician may prescribe medication.3,4

Integrated grief

As time passes, symptoms occur less often and feel less severe. Bereaved individuals come to terms with the loss, adapt to the loss of their loved ones, and integrate the experience into a “new normal.”3

Managing grief and loss

The following suggestions can help people care for themselves throughout their grieving process.

Set your own pace

Slow down. Take the time you need. Don’t over-extend or over-commit yourself. Listen to your body and pay attention to how you feel.

“There is no one-size-fits-all formula for healing the soul. Each of us will need to find the unique path that leads us from grief or despair to healing.”

Reduce your to-do list

Don’t try to do everything you used to do. Ask for help with cooking, cleaning, shopping, or lawn work. Give those willing to help, specific information about what you need, such as the kind of meals you’d like to eat or a list of things to pick up at the store.

Take care of yourself

Make sure you get enough rest. Take time to eat right, stay hydrated, and enjoy your normal physical activities.

Find joy

As much as you can, keep doing the things that bring you joy, whether that is music, reading, knitting, or gardening. These activities can bring you moments of happiness.

Pay tribute

Find a simple way to recognize your loved one. Light a candle. Post a photo. Tell stories. Say a prayer. Or honor their memory through philanthropy.

Keep the faith

Religious beliefs or traditions can help many people facing loss. Find out what remote or virtual services and support your house of worship offers.

Remember, there will be good days and bad days. When you are having trouble, reach out to those closest to you for help. Social support can help you manage painful thoughts and emotions and help you to heal.

1  When a loved one dies form COVID-19. Center for the Study of Traumatic Stress., Department of Psychiatry, Uniformed Services University. Accessed May 12, 2020
2  Wallace CL. Grief during COVID-19 pandemic: considerations for palliative care providers. Journal of Pain and Symptom Management. In press. Accessed May 12, 2020. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jpainsymman.2020.04.012
3  PDQ® Supportive and Palliative Care Editorial Board. PDQ Grief, Bereavement, and Coping with Loss. Bethesda, MD: National Cancer Institute. Available at: https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/advanced-cancer/caregivers/planning/bereavement-pdq. Accessed 4/17/20. [PMID: 26389267]
4  Complicated Grief. Center for Complicated Grief. Columbia School of Social Work. Accessed 04/17/20

Caring for the soul in the time of COVID-19, Psychiatric Times. Accessed 04/28/20. 

Netrf.org terms and conditions: This information is not intended as and shall not be relied upon as medical advice. The Neuroendocrine Tumor Research Foundation encourages all users to discuss any information found here with their oncologist, physician, and/or appropriate qualified health professional.

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