Grieving during lockdown
This week a friend of mine heard that her mother had died. There is no way that she can be physically present to mourn with her family. The physical distance is too far. This is going to be a problem for numerous people over the next few weeks. (Approximately 1500 people died every average day in SA pre lockdown) How can one grieve well under lockdown circumstances? How can we, who have lost a close companion, experience some closure when we cannot reach out to comfort each other, to hold, to hug, to weep on each other’s shoulders? It is a difficult conversation to have. An unspeakable reality we do not want to even imagine. But let us dare to explore this topic now, so that we are not immobilised when some of us need to find a way for our own sake, and for the sake of those we love.
Here are some ideas, that admittedly cannot replace physical presence, but are a way in which we can still support the grieving:
We are not allowed to accompany the family to identify the body, but we can let them know that we are thinking and praying for them when they do.
We are not able to bring our respects to close family members at the house in person, but we can send messages.
A time of regular daily prayer for the bereaved family could be held in the days leading up to the funeral. (This would be a commitment to doing this at a set time with/without the involvement of apps or social media)
We cannot offer our physical service at the house in helping with the preparation of food, but in suburban areas we may be able to order groceries and have them delivered. For families in other areas, a transfer of money may be helpful.
The body cannot be brought home for last good-byes on the evening before the funeral, but neighbours can still sing from their properties in support of the family who has lost a loved one.
We may not be able to physically attend the wake, but we may be able to organise an on-line version using an appropriate app. Data and airtime can be donated to grieving family members to help them keep in touch with the wider community.
We may not be part of the select fifty who are allowed to attend the funeral, but we may be able to host a virtual memorial service before the funeral using an app that allows for a larger participation. It may also be possible to video the funeral and share it with others later.
We could start a grieving whatsapp group, where a number of things could be shared e.g. photos, memories, funny stories, quirky habits, a play list of our loved ones’ favourite songs. Facebook accounts can be memorialized.
Different people could create an area of remembrance in their own homes with a photo of the deceased, and a collection of items that remind us of him or her, and share these with others.
We will not be allowed to join the family at the cemetery and help move the soil to close the grave. Sometimes it seems appropriate to give a grieving family a plant in memory of their loved one. For now we may be able to take a cutting from a plant in our own garden (if we have one), and start the process, so that we can give them the plant when lockdown ends.
We can keep in touch with the family with regular phone calls and messages until the mourning period ends, and even beyond.
With time we can develop a collection of new rituals that will help for now, until we are physically re-united. What would you add?
(With thanks to Love Legacy Dignity and to my friends who have been willing to have these difficult conversations.)