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COVID-19 – Caregiving and loss during the pandemic

On May 21, 2020

The pandemic is upsetting our individual and collective references. Our rituals and the meaning of our grief are completely turned upside down. If you are grieving or accompanying a loved one at the end of a life, how do you get through this time?


If you are currently grieving or if you are accompanying your loved one at the end of their life, the situation may seem absurd and unfair. Your final exchanges will likely be rushed, curtailed or even absent. You might experience feelings of anger and guilt. In such a context, comparable to post-traumatic shock, how can you grieve without paying your respects, without saying goodbye, without the rituals that make it feel real?

Your journey may be long. You will have to adjust to numerous constraints. Remember that there is no set time for grieving and you have the right to experience it as your feelings arise, to talk about your loss, to look for words of hope that will help you get through it at your own pace.

 

Take solace in your memory of the final moments

Perhaps you were able to talk to your loved one before their death? Maybe you feel like the discussion was hollow, rushed, your words were not what you wanted them to be? Be easy on yourself. Nothing happened the way you had planned, but you did your best in the unusual circumstances. Think about the good times you shared with your loved one, not what you have lost. And most importantly, do not blame yourself: increasing your suffering by making yourself responsible for a situation beyond your control is pointless.

While death marks the beginning of the grieving process, the rituals that come along with it, such as funerals, are the occasion for you to talk about it, to gather support. The absence of such rituals should not prevent you from sharing your suffering, with your family or friends by telephone for example. Social recognition of this difficult period is a first step in moving through your pain. It will help you maintain the connection between you and your loved one, beyond their death.

If you feel ready, you can also create rituals that are just as meaningful for you and your friends and family: family gatherings by video, a place for reflection in your home ... Finding other ways to break the isolation, to commemorate the loss is important in order to better understand your emotions.

 

What if you could not say goodbye?

Managing your emotions when you could not say goodbye is another challenge, with its own difficulties. Even if it is the last thing you want, you have to accept being patient. Over time, you will find it easier to accept leaving room for happy memories. Drawing energy from these moments can also be a way of helping you move through your grief. This may not happen right away, but keep in mind that the process builds as you progress.

Again, talking about your loss and its context can bring you some relief. But perhaps you need a more private sphere to connect with your feelings? Putting your feelings to paper, in a journal perhaps, or writing a letter to your deceased loved one may be therapeutic.  Explain why you could not be present, imagine what might have been said if you had had the chance ... The idea is to let yourself tell your story, instead of dwelling on the imposed reality.

 

Accepting cognitive decline

Cognitive decline is another form of loss that you may have to face. Your loved one might have suffered from isolation and loneliness, translating into greater cognitive losses than in “normal” situations. While progress may be foreseeable with the relaxing of confinement measures, you must still be prepared to consider that this decline may be irreversible.

Again, do not feel guilty, because you undoubtedly did the best you could. Look for the positive and hope in your visits. Your very presence is a source of comfort for your loved one. Do they feel less alone, do they enjoy talking, playing a game, looking at photos? These are the moments that you need to hold onto. You can create pleasant and comforting moments, regardless of whether your loved one recognizes you or not.

In the beginning, no solution may seem ideal. You must give yourself the time necessary to move through your grief, without forcing the process. As soon as you feel capable, try to break the isolation and hang onto positive memories. Do not hesitate to express your emotions, to name them: they all have their place and expressing them healthily may be beneficial. Finally, have confidence in yourself, and accept that time will provide healing.

If you need support to help you get through this suffering, our caregiver counsellors are available for you seven days a week, from 8 am to 8 pm.

Other resources can also support and guide you through these difficult times:


Sources

Vachon. M. (May 2020). Webinar: La proche aidance et le deuil en temps de pandémie (caregiving and loss during the pandemic). Montréal: Regroupement provincial des comités des usagers. [in French]