How can you help someone who is experiencing grief related to the coronavirus pandemic when you or they are confined to home? 

Yesterday, we talked about how the unusual circumstances surrounding the coronavirus crisis disrupts the normal rituals and grief process surrounding the death of a loved one. People who suffer a loss are deprived of many comforts and processes that normally help in the early stages of coping with and grieving for a loss. In today’s post, we talk about ways that you can support someone you care about who is experiencing grief, even in a time of social distancing.

Kristin Bianchi, a licensed psychologist at the Center for Anxiety and Behavioral Change, talked to Market Watch about how these constraints can intensify a bereaved’s grief. In Grieving in the midst of the coronavirus — what to know and how to help others, she says:

“The coronavirus makes grieving, which is already a lonely process, even lonelier because we don’t have access to the type of physical contact and support upon which we rely to get through times of loss. When someone is acutely grieving and really in the throes of it, they may be too overwhelmed to be able to articulate what they need. They might not even know what they need in the immediate aftermath of a loss. Not having access to people stepping in and taking care of one another is devastating. It adds several extra layers to the stress that already accompanies loss. “

When asked what family and friends do now to help those who lost someone, given the constraints of the pandemic, Bianchi said:

“Check in, check in, check in. The person may or may not respond, and that’s OK, but at least the bereaved people will know that others care and they do have support. You can never let someone know too much that you’re thinking of them. Another recommendation would be to take action without being asked. Often when people are in the middle of a crisis, they don’t know what to ask for — we are not able to problem solve when our bodies and minds are in a state of emergency, so we’re going to have to be creative in terms of what we can do for people. It might be providing gift certificates for meals if we can’t get them somewhere physically, or maybe having food delivered to them and care packages. Also setting up an online community page, a hub for social networks to support them online. “

Below, we talk about concrete ideas for how and what you can do to support someone who suffers coronavirus-related loss, but first, we turn to a short, simple animated video by Megan Devine, We posted it a few years back, and it remains some of the best advice we’ve heard about supporting someone who is grieving. It’s quite pertinent today in terms of framing how we offer our support. She asks why we feel so helpless and ineffective about helping cheer people up when they are deeply sad or grieving, a suggests that maybe it is because cheering up doesn’t work. Although our intentions may be good, we can’t take someone’s pain away. Her advice? Simply be there, acknowledge and listen. Megan says that “being heard helps.”

In Loss in a Pandemic: Supporting Grievers, the National Funeral Directors Association (NFDA) talks about the importance of validating the griever’s experience, both in terms of their feelings and also in validating any of the difficult decisions they must make about the type of services they choose. They also discuss the importance of remaining emotionally present, even if you can’t be physically present, and discuss harnessing various communication platforms to reach out, such as phone, video, mail, and social media. They also suggest:

  • Mailing them a gift card for a favorite restaurant to use in the future
  • Ordering a book online and having it shipped to them
  • Creating a playlist of music and emailing it to them
  • Using online photo services to have a picture of the griever with their loved one printed and sent to them

In another article, Supporting Friends & Family When a Funeral Isn’t Possible, the NFDA suggests more concrete ideas for supporting a griever. Here are a few that we liked:

  • Make a donation in the individual’s name and write a personal note to the family about your donation.
  • Offer to have food delivered to their home or pick up a meal from a restaurant offering takeout food and deliver it to their home (if this option is available in your community).
  • Fill a jar with memories of the loved one and mail it to the family. Family members can read the memories at their leisure and be reminded of special times.

In prior posts here on HR Web Cafe, we previously offered suggestions for how to help someone who is grieving. A few might need to be adjusted to accommodate social distancing and quarantines:

  • Do learn about the stages of grief. It’s normal for someone to be depressed or angry. Let them work through it. Expect sadness and tears.
  • Don’t try to fix things. You can’t.
  • Do offer more than words. Run errands, offer a ride, mind kids, bake a meal or just spend time.
  • Don’t make it about you or how you feel. It’s about them. Listen with compassion. Validate feelings.
  • Do hug the person, take their hand, or offer a light touch. The warmth of human touch can be healing.
  • Don’t be judgmental. Their timeline isn’t your timeline. Their way of mourning may not be the same as yours.
  • Do help to memorialize the loved one. Plant a tree, gather photos, share memories or start a fund.
  • Don’t minimize or explain away the loss. Avoid platitudes and phrases like “it was his time.”
  • Do remember into the future. Reach out on anniversaries and special days with a call or a card.

Many of us have trouble finding the right words.  It’s even harder when we don’t have hugs and facial expressions to help, but it’s OK to keep things simple. Here are some ideas for things you can say.

  • I’m so sorry for your loss.
  • I’m available anytime you need to talk.
  • What can I do for you?
  • I’m sorry I never had a chance to meet your aunt – she sounds wonderful.
  • Your Dad loved you so much, he always talked about you.
  • You are in my thoughts and prayers.
  • If you knew the person, share a special memory or a trait you admired.

Really, it’s more about caring, being there (even virtually), and listening. Take your cues from the bereaved.

Here are additional articles and resources that might help:

Just a reminder – if you are a member of ESI EAP, you can call us 24/7/365 for support with grief and loss.

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