How has the pandemic changed the way we grieve?

Frankie Aitchison

Frankie Aitchison

UKCP psychotherapist Frankie Aitchison is a UKCP accredited psychotherapist, with a special interest in supporting those dealing with bereavement and grief and anyone who has experienced Infant and Pregnancy Loss.

In a time that has challenged us in so many ways, how we grieve and say goodbye to the people around us who have died has become harder than we could imagine. We’ve lost the ability to come together in the ways that we would normally expect. We’ve had to call on technology to say our final goodbyes, some have only been able to gather in very small numbers, and for many they have had to come to terms with not being able to say goodbye at all in the way they would like to.

A 2020 report by Co-op Funeral Care said that an estimated 9.7 million mourners had been unable to attend a loved one’s funeral.

For many, this pandemic has meant a change to the traditions and rituals around death that have been in families for generations. These are important rituals, that have helped people transition to a life without their loved ones. Being unable to hold funerals and get together with our communities and family can add to the distress already being experienced. Sometimes there is fear that delaying a funeral, or not celebrating a person’s life in the traditional way, means you’ve let them down and feelings of guilt can surface that may not serve us well.

Permission to find your own way

When we lose someone, the experience is unique and individual. The grief journey is not the same for everyone, even if you are grieving for the same person. Often this can raise questions such as, ’Am I doing this right?’ particularly if we are looking around and comparing our grief with someone else’s. As we face this under the shadow of a pandemic it can also feel like an extremely lonely process, not least because we’ve been unable to connect with others. But there is no right or wrong way to experience the death of a loved one, or to grieve or remember them. You can allow yourself the permission to find your own way, to take your time. When we allow ourselves the creativity to remember a loved one in different ways it opens up opportunities to celebrate their lives in ways that we might not have thought possible before.

Connection is  important for wellbeing

If connection is something that we have lost during the pandemic this can feel intensely acute when we have also experienced a death. Looking for places where we can forge connection again can be vital for our wellbeing and mental health. Alongside reconnecting with family and friends, now restrictions have begun to ease; across the UK there are also charities and local organisations that offer places to meet, in person and online, to talk about your experiences and find support and friendship.

Conversations around bereavement and grief are also becoming more open and we can engage with this type of connection too if it feels right. The Good Grief Festival is one such event which has brought together many different speakers on a variety of subjects and is open to anyone who wants to be part of it.

Feeling supported by a professional can be part of looking after yourself

Finding a place where you can feel safe and supported to talk about the person who’s died - your experience, your thoughts of the future or reflections on the past - can often feel difficult with the people closest to you. Psychotherapy can offer you a regular time each week just for you. It is here that you can have the space to talk or be silent, be creative, laugh, be angry, cry and connect in your own way with the person you’ve lost. It could also allow you time to explore alternative ways to remember the person who’s died, especially if you were unable to do this in the way you would have liked.

There is no fixing that can be done for grief, it is a journey you go on, one you never would have chosen, but with the help of a therapist, you will be able to find ways to navigate grief so that you can live life alongside it.

If you are interested in exploring psychotherapy, then you can

Look for an accredited therapist on the UKCP website

If you are looking for support and information the following organisations, although not exhaustive, are a good place to start:

You can also find support by contacting:

In an emergency, call: 999

NHS (England), call: 111

NHS Direct (Wales), call: 0845 46 47

The Samaritans 24 hour helpline, call: 116 123

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