If someone had told you a year ago that you wouldn’t be able to visit your grandparents and may not even be able to attend the funeral of a loved one, you probably wouldn’t have listened let alone given it any thought. Yet that is exactly what happened last March when we entered our first lockdown of the coronavirus pandemic.
Even in normal times, we have always been uncomfortable around death, funerals and grief yet the pandemic has made the experience of funerals an emotional minefield. We realise now, more than ever, how much we need that human closeness, physical contact and instinctive reaching out to one another that we rely upon in our times of need. We took for granted that our funeral traditions and rituals would always be there to help us on our grief journey.
Every emotional event in our life has a ritual for celebrating and processing it: christenings, birthdays, weddings, retirements. Funerals are amongst the most important as they are a concluding ritual following the end of someone’s life. The funeral profession has been one of the most neglected professions of our time, yet as one of the early caregivers following a death, our levels of expertise around grief can determine the mental and emotional wellbeing of grievers moving through loss.
So many bereaved people are reaching out for help at this time, unsure where to turn. The impact on grieving families has been tremendous; it has made them feel even more isolated in their grief and unsure of their feelings as they withdraw into their own private pain.
In the pandemic, we have lost the power of ritualistic healing that the preparation and participation in a funeral ceremony brings.
In the pandemic, we have lost the power of ritualistic healing that the preparation and participation in a funeral ceremony brings. We have lost our community that provides the emotional scaffolding at a time when we need it most, and we have also been denied the physical comfort we need from our family and friends.
Another important aspect of a funeral is the coming together afterwards, where everyone can have good quality time talking and sharing their own memories, tears and laughter. As a funeral director and grief counsellor, it has been harrowing to see people bent double with grief when no-one can approach them. Afterwards, they have to go straight home and cope on their own.
Without physical comfort from our family and friends before, during and after a funeral, we must find new ways to unite in our grief and remembrances. And even though it may feel easier to withdraw into ourselves in this time of restriction and isolation, it is more important than ever that we push ourselves to reach out to one another.
A national day of mourning would help us to feel connected, a day of ritual to remember those we have lost and a day of healing for their families and friends.
It is essential to our emotional wellbeing that we mark the passing of those we love. We have no choice but to adapt to this new way of living and being. We also must not neglect our sadness and, regardless of the pandemic, we still need to give witness to our grief.
When you allow yourself the freedom to express your grief – whether through words, music, meditation or art – you actually begin to reduce it and this is where we start to heal. When we are happy, we want to share our happiness and it should be exactly the same when we are sad. Both emotions need equal expression. The ability to experience and to share our emotions is all part of being human. Reach out to each other and talk about how you feel, even if you can only do it on a screen.
The grief of a pandemic can feel so open-ended. A national day of mourning would help us to feel connected, a day of ritual to remember those we have lost and a day of healing for their families and friends.
By declaring a national day of mourning, we would make clear that every single life mattered.
Lianna Champ is a grief counsellor and author of How to Grieve Like A Champ