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The Impact of Coronavirus on Bereavement

Mon 10 Aug 2020

As lockdown starts to come to an end, members of the South Staffordshire End of Life Care Alliance reflect on the impact of the coronavirus on the community.

The current focus for the alliance, which brings together voluntary sector organisations from across the county, is bereavement and members have supported the community in different ways throughout. 

Gayle Routledge, CEO of A Child of Mine, which currently supports more than 60 families across Staffordshire following the death of a child of any age, said lockdown had been a really challenging time for families. 

“People have had far more time to think, and this time has accentuated the gap in their lives left by their child,” she said.

“We’ve supported families who have very much thought recovering from loss would be a quick fix and that in a few weeks they would be OK. 

“But there isn’t a magic wand to fix grief. It is painful - they have to go through it and that can be very hard.

“We’ve seen more families who have become isolated through the lockdown. 

“The loss of a child can be isolating in itself, as few people understand the impact of the loss of their future together and the fear that people will forget their child.

“So many people report friends and family avoiding them when their child dies, because they don’t know what to say.

“This has been accentuated by lockdown, when many families are staying in their homes and aren’t seeing anyone on a daily basis, plus people aren’t reaching out to them. 

“We’ve been running our services via phone and video call, but it is difficult to duplicate the face to face support, when someone’s physical presence is a comfort.

“People are missing the human connection and value the friendly voice and listening ear we have been able to offer, while many services have been forced to stop.”

Wendy Quinn, confirm title at Sacred Heart Church in Tamworth has seen the isolation of older people through them being more ‘locked down’.

“Far more of the older people in our community have been staying in their homes and gardens, often very anxious about seeing people,” she said.

“For those who were bereaved prior to lockdown, it has, in some cases, brought the grief back to the fore, as their world has got smaller, while the loss has stayed the same. 

“They haven’t even be able to do something as simple as go out for a coffee. 

“For those people who lost someone they loved, there has almost been a postponing of the grief, as the changes in rituals like funerals have made it difficult for people to mourn in the same way. 

“We have seen some funerals streamed live, so people have been able to be part of the service that way, but for many the funeral has become something to be done rather than a celebration of life. 

“Technology has been a great way of people keeping in touch in general and church services being streamed online have been a valuable point of connect for people.

“We’re also seen phenomenal mutual support for the attendees at our bereavement help point, who have kept in touch and helped each other out through the pandemic.”

Glen Speak, deputy general manager of Tamworth Co-Op Funeral services, agreed the people who had been bereaved during lockdown had often put their bereavement on hold. 

“A funeral is almost a tool to help people with grieving, giving people space to express their emotions, from the ride in the funeral car to the service as an opportunity to celebrate someone’s life,” he said.

“Because of the limits on numbers of people at funerals and the need for social distancing, people haven’t been able to pay their respects and come together in the way they normally would. 

“We’ve seen an increase in direct cremations as people have decided not to hold a service now, but to have a memorial event later when people can be together to remember their loved ones.

“Technology has also been a challenge, as most of the work we do is based on face to face and families have had to deal with changes in processes like the registration of the death and the issuing of death certificates. 

“For our staff too, it’s been a difficult process to adapt to all the changes, from PPE to social distancing, all of which feel like a barrier between them and the grieving family. 

“They’ve worked incredibly hard to adjust and to make the experience for the families as good as possible, whether that’s encouraging them to drive past favourite spots on the way to the funeral or supporting them to make the funeral unique.”

For Reverend David Evans, the lockdown has been a time technology has helped to keep the church community together.

“We’ve seen people come together though church services online, which has created a sense of community in these times,” he said.

“But it has been hard when someone has died for the family to celebrate their lives. 

“We’ve seen less services at the crematorium when we’ve been asked to attend, which could be to do with people not knowing what is ‘allowed’ at a funeral with restrictions and social distancing in place.

 “I’d mirror what other people have said about the delay in grieving and the potential for memorial services when a ‘new normal’ is in place.

“Few people have had the opportunity to remember loved ones in a satisfactory way and we anticipate that people will be keen to consider how to celebrate their lives when they can come together.”

At St Giles Hospice, staff have seen the impact of separation at the end of people’s lives, which has had an impact on how they grieve. 

“Patients and families have had to make choices about going into a hospital or a hospice which has meant that some of the family can’t be with them at the end of their life,” said Ian Leech, community engagement and supportive care manager. 

“Added to that the complications around funerals and the lack of day to day connection for people who are grieving and it’s clear to see what an impact coronavirus has had in terms of loss and bereavement.

“We have seen bereaved people embracing the opportunity to use technology to keep in touch using online bereavement help points, which anyone who is grieving can join. 

“Looking to the future we expect to see more people needing support around their loss because of lockdown, young and old.”

In the coming months, alliance member organisations will be focusing on scoping the services available across the area and encouraging people to access support and continue to have those important conversations related to death and dying to support people in South Staffordshire. 

To find out more about the organisations involved in the alliance, and how they can help, contact Ian Leech on ian.leech@stgileshospice.com or call 01543 434536.