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Last updated on Aug 7th, 2020 at 09:01 am

Covid-19 Loss – How can we get closure if we can’t say goodbye to our loved ones in their final hours?

One of the most heart-breaking aspects of the coronavirus pandemic that is spreading through our country is the fact that family members aren’t able to be with their loved ones in their final hours.

Knowing that our father, mother, or loved one took their final breath alone in a hospital can haunt us. So much unfinished business, so many words left unsaid.

While exhausted healthcare workers and nurses try to assist by allowing families to call their loved ones on cell phones, or even ‘face-time’ if they have access to data, nothing comes close to being able to hold someone’s hand as they pass on.

Even once they have passed away, the traditional funeral ceremonies in which we could find some closure have been done away with. Now, instead of being comforted by friends and family and supported by our communities,  social distancing regulations have meant that we, too, are left almost ‘alone’ in our time of need.

No hugs of condolences, no family visits to help ease the burden of day-to-day life
No hugs of condolences, no family visits to help ease the burden of day-to-day life
Copyright : lightfieldstudios (123rf.com)

No hugs of condolences, no family visits to help ease the burden of day-to-day life

“It is incredibly difficult, if you have decided to go to the funeral, to deal with the social distancing and COVID ‘norms’. I was at a relative’s funeral recently and it was very surreal – everyone in masks, standing two meters away from each other, not being able to hug or physically comfort each other,” says Janine Shamos, a Transformation & Resilience Coach and Trauma Counsellor.

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“There is no right or wrong way to grieve. The process will take as long as it takes and, in this pandemic world, the ‘normal’ grief process is extended for some people while others feel numbed (and we predict that their loss will hit later),” says Shamos.

Struggling with closure and guilt

“The number of people who are struggling to find closure certainly seems to have increased,” says Social worker, and mental health professional, Ingrid Pollak. “This could be for a number of reasons such as general uncertainty, distance, inability to get close to the person prior to death or even inability to talk to the person if they are in hospital.”

“There is often a level of guilt when a loved one dies in a hospital,” agrees Shamos. The banning of visits to hospital wards and frail care centres and old age homes during the pandemic has made this even ‘worse’.

“Many people have elderly parents in hospitals or frail care centres and because of COVID they can’t visit. There is fear of parents dying and loved ones (kids and grandkids) not being able to be there or say goodbye.”

How can we cope with the ‘guilt’ of not being there for loved ones?

“For the most part, guilt is irrational. We all need to remind ourselves of that, says Shamos. “It is important that all remind ourselves that we are doing the very best that we can do under the circumstances.”

“It is important that all remind ourselves that we are doing the very best that we can do under the circumstances.”

Humans are wired to need certainty and conclusion to an event

“A friend of mine’s father died in late March 2020 in Brazil, during level 5 lockdown. She is currently living in South Africa and has not been able to travel to attend her father’s funeral leaving her bereft and unable to get closure,” says Pollak.

“I personally believe it is important for the bereft to see their loved ones or the remains of their loved one (if they choose to), and attend a memorial to gain closure.”

“I suggest speaking to a trained and qualified mental health professional such as a trained social worker, psychologist or counsellor,” says Pollak. “The qualified therapist will be able to assist in ‘unpacking’ the guilt and help the client re-frame not being present for the deceased due to circumstances beyond their control by dealing with the grief, anger and confusion.”

How can we cope with the ‘guilt’ of not being able to protect our loved ones?
How can we cope with the ‘guilt’ of not being able to protect our loved ones?
Copyright : Jarun Ontakrai (123rf.com)

How can we cope with the ‘guilt’ of not being able to protect our loved ones?

Many people who have lost a loved one to the new coronavirus struggle with the thought that they may have been the one to pass on the virus. They feel responsible for not protecting their loved one, and putting them ‘in harm’s way’.

“This virus is so new, we really don’t understand very much about it,” says Shamos. “70% of infected people show no symptoms. So feeling guilty about being the ‘cause’ of someone’s illness is again irrational.”

“We can feel guilty when we know we are sick and don’t do anything to prevent risk – for example. But for someone who is showing no symptoms, and is being very responsible, that guilt is not rational. We realise that this is easier said than done.”

Taking precautions is important, but we will never have ‘complete control’

“I do believe that we can and should take all possible precautions and be responsible in keeping ourselves safe from the virus. That said, it is impossible to completely control the spread of the virus. Sometimes it is necessary to re frame the way one sees the situation,” says Pollak.

For example: I contract the virus unknowingly and bring it home. I don’t get sick, but my loved ones do. We sit in quarantine, focusing on recovering, caring for one another and bringing some humour into the situation takes the edge off the reality of being sick and not pointing fingers or allocating blame to anyone.

“There is no point in feeling guilty if one has potentially passed the virus to family members. Individuals can take preventative measures but ultimately we have no control of viruses and how viruses travel and are passed on.”

Talk to friends, & family but be aware that their ‘advise’ might not offer comfort

“Talk to friends, but beware that friends may or may not know how to deal with emotions on an objective level,” warns Pollak. “They may say things like: ‘Time will heal your pain’, or cut you short simply because they don’t know how to deal with your grief.”

How can we get closure if we can’t say goodbye to our loved ones in their final hours?
How can we get closure if we can’t say goodbye to our loved ones in their final hours?
Copyright : Chalermphon Kumchai (123rf.com)

 

Are there any ‘rituals’ or things we can do to try to say goodbye and let go in our own way?

Shamos advises the following:

  • If you have a photograph (no matter how old) – talk to your loved one, tell them how you feel, keep the photo in a visible place and say talk as often as you need to
  • Light a candle and say a prayer – light a candle every night for a week to 10 days as a healing, mourning ritual
  • Write a letter to your loved one, read it out to them, then burn it and release them with love
  • Use incense in a ritual to your loved one – let the smell help you relax and release
  • What can also help (whether your loved one is ill, far away or no longer with you) is to wear something that belonged to them or something that reminds you of them – a necklace, brooch etc

Pollak suggests:

  • A private memorial in the home where a candle may be lit, sharing a slide show and / or scrap book of the departed
  • A Zoom memorial meeting with friends, colleagues, and family members in honour of the departed
  • Donating money or goods to a charity in the name of the deceased
  • Writing a poem or a song about the deceased
  • Planting a tree or memorial garden to celebrate the life of the departed
  • Plaques and any other memorial items / memento’s that can be viewed and touched also seem to help

WHERE TO FIND HELP IF YOU’RE STRUGGLING:

SADAG

“Give yourself time, and be caring to yourself,” advises Shamos. “Talk about how you are feeling. SADAG can be reached 24 hours a day, 7 days a week on 0800212223 or 0800567567.”

Ingrid Pollak

While All4Women endeavours to ensure health articles are based on scientific research, health articles should not be considered as a replacement for professional medical advice. Should you have concerns related to this content, it is advised that you discuss them with your personal healthcare provider.