All trauma, loss and adversity is buffered and made more bearable by social support. Funerals support grieving through meaning making, containing and holding feelings which seem overwhelming and communal acknowledgment of loss and of pain. This crisis brings particular challenges.
Families may feel they are letting their relative down by not being able to arrange a traditional or ‘proper’ funeral.
It is important to have gentle conversations about how they are doing the best they can in impossible circumstances where choices are severely limited. Encourage relatives to be compassionate to themselves and not to feel guilty.
The experience of death may be complicated. It may not have been possible to say goodbye or to see the body. Families may feel the care of their loved one was compromised by inadequate resources. There may be complicated issues of guilt or blame around how the person became infected.
Be available to hear and acknowledge these sources of distress. Sometimes this does not feel like “doing anything” but witnessing someone’s pain and accompanying them in it is the most important thing you can do.
New funeral practices are having be developed, in a short time and in the most stressful and difficult circumstances.
Be clear on the current guidance and restrictions and offer supportive explanations of the available options – streaming or recording; a later memorial service; creative uses of social media to share memories and stories.
Friends and relatives will be more isolated because of social distancing.
Talk about the support relatives and friends need to cope with their grief and loss and who they can draw on. Think particularly about the needs of people who have already suffered multiple losses and adversity, who may be isolated or who may have pre-existing mental health difficulties or difficulties with substances. They may need to be connected to new forms of support or to agencies that can help them.
Helping to plan funerals and support grieving families in a crisis is extremely difficult work.
You may be haunted by what you are hearing and exhausted by the demands.
Get more social support yourself from friends or peers or supervisors. Check in with yourself regularly about how you are doing. Tell others. It is ok to not feel ok. You are working in a crisis. Be compassionate to yourself. Take breaks. Attend to your own physical protection from infection. Eat well, try not to drink too much alcohol. Get enough sleep.
Rachel Morley worked for many years in the NHS as a Consultant Clinical Psychologist working with survivors of trauma. She now works part-time offering trauma informed psychosocial support.