The death of a loved one is a huge life event. The feelings of loss, grief, uncertainty and sadness can feel overwhelming at first.

This is a really normal part of bereavement. Grief is not a straightforward process, and a lot of how you feel can be based on the relationship you had with the person you lost. Everyone has their own timeline, but with time and support, many people can start to rebuild and reimagine their life without their loved one.

However, this isn’t an overnight process. If you’ve lost someone recently, or an anniversary is coming up, being able to grieve and celebrate the life of your loved one is even harder right now, during the pandemic. Due to COVID-19, restrictions on funerals and gatherings means that many bereaved people are restricted in how they can celebrate, mourn and reflect on the life that has passed. You may not have been able to have a farewell that gives closure, or have the comforting company of friends and family.

If you’re going through this, we’ve got some advice to help deal with loss during isolation:

1. Stay connected

Being human means being connected. We are born with a need to connect to others and to show empathy. At a time when you can’t pop out and see someone for a cup of tea or coffee, it’s still important to stay connected - so you could try a phone or video call where you can sit down with a hot drink together. Make every effort to stay connected to your friends and family.

2. Get exercise and fresh air

If you can (and depending on the latest advice by the government), try to get outside either in the garden if you have one, by taking a walk or trying an online exercise class. All these things can help your wellbeing and mood, and decrease stress and anxiety. But also make sure that you look after yourself and rest, don’t feel guilty if you are struggling.

3. Talk to a counsellor

Talking to friends and family helps a great deal, but sometimes it can be easier talking to a stranger, or someone impartial who can help you look at things in a different way. Cruse offer adults bereavement support, contact their freephone helpline on 0808 808 1677. 

For adults who want advice about a child or young person who has been bereaved, you can call Barnardo’s NI Child Bereavement Service on 07867372711 (Monday, Tuesday and Friday 10am -1pm) or read our leaflet.

4. Reach out to others struggling

Reaching out to friends and family that are also grieving can provide support for both of you. Dropping off some shopping or essentials to their doorstep, or sending flowers as a small gesture to let them know you’re thinking of them or getting on the phone to talk about how you’re both feeling can be really beneficial for you both.

5. Talk to your child

Children may feel the loss more acutely, and might worry about your physical wellbeing. It is not uncommon for children to become confused about death once they’ve experienced loss for the first time. It’s important to reassure them that while everyone dies, it is normally when they are very old, so they do not need to worry that anyone else they love will be gone tomorrow. It’s important they have all the information so they can so they can start to understand what has happened and make sense of it. You can read more about talking to children about grief here

6. Remember your loved one

Grieving can be difficult during the pandemic, with restrictions around funerals and memorial services.

The children and families we are currently supporting have come up with a lovely way of remembering their loved ones during lockdown, by making a star and decorating it with images that remind them of the person or writing a short note to that person. These stars are being displaying around the house or in windows as a reminder of that person.

Michelle Scullion

Barnardo’s Child Bereavement Service

If you’re limited in how you can mourn, there are some further suggestions from the Barnardo’s Children’s Bereavement Service: 

  • If only a couple of people from the same household can attend the funeral in person, they could take the children through what happened at the service on their return. 
  • Some venues allow a live stream so that people at home can watch the funeral. 
  • Where possible photographs can be taken to show children and young people to help them understand what happens at a funeral. 
  • Keepsakes from the funeral service can be very meaningful for children. For example, some flowers from the tributes to press and keep; a leaf from one of the trees in the grounds; a pebble from the surrounding area; the order of service. 
  • Children can participate by contributing to some of the choices within the short ceremony. For example, they could choose a piece of music, select a poem, or suggest flowers, write and/or draw cards to be placed on or in the coffin or choose a toy or something meaningful to be placed with the person’s body. 

7. Continuing bonds

Some psychologists have moved away from the idea of ‘letting go’ of the deceased, and there is now a recognition of what is called ‘continuing bonds’. 

This means that for some people (specifically those where the relationship was a good and emotionally stable one), keeping a connection with the deceased becomes a healthy part of life after loss. It might sound strange, but things like writing letters to them, talking to them (out loud or in your head), keeping photos of them around, talking about them to new people in your life can play a part in a healthy life after losing someone. This all happens in a way that doesn’t stop the person from moving on with their life, loving again and being able to live their lives happily. This can be really beneficial for children as well, who might not have been able to get to know a family member who has died. 

Ultimately, your process of grieving is a personal one. Support is a key part of it, however - and that can come from friends, family, your GP, a therapist or counsellor, someone within your faith community, a charity or a helpline. If you feel like you need additional help, you can contact Cruse offer adults bereavement support, contact their freephone helpline on 0808 808 1677. 

For adults who want advice about a child or young person who has been bereaved, you can call Barnardo’s NI Child Bereavement Service on 07867372711 (Monday, Tuesday and Friday 10am -1pm).

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