Bereavement, loss and grief in a time of COVID-19

The pandemic has placed extraordinary demands on individuals across our society. The humanitarian toll has created fear and the sheer scale and unpredictability of the situation make it challenging for us to respond to.

 For many during this time there have been serious illnesses and deaths of loved ones, both of Covid-19 and other unrelated issues.

 Complicating this grief for some has been the inability to be with someone during their last days or to be present without protective equipment. Our familiar traditions and rituals around death have often provided comfort for the bereaved. They have offered the opportunity to celebrate the life and pay tribute through a funeral and gathering with family and friends. However, at this time the ability to do this in the way we might wish has been curtailed and that has added to the loss.

 At this time too, others are struggling with losses of a different kind. For example, some women due to engage in fertility treatment missed that opportunity due to the closure of the clinics followed by a waiting list upon reopening. They reported the fear of their one chance being missed and are grieving the loss of what might have been. Others have missed out on important events like weddings, graduations and being present at hospital baby scans. All in all, this has created a situation where many people are struggling with complex grief.

 For employers, the need to support employees dealing with bereavement, loss and grief in the workplace has never been so important and the workplace has a key role to play. However, research carried out in 2018 on behalf of the Irish Hospice Foundation found that 25% of Irish adults had experienced a bereavement in the last 5 years and the same amount were unsatisfied with how their employer had supported them. They would have appreciated greater levels of support on returning to work following their bereavement and to be treated with compassion by their employer.

 

Breffni McGuinness of the Irish Hospice Foundation outlined the 3 key elements of Bereavement First Aid:

  •  Acknowledge

It is very important to acknowledge what has happened – i.e. the death of this individual person, and to offer sympathy.

  • Validate

It is important to acknowledge and validate the feelings of an employee who is grieving – especially during Covid 19

  • Support and signpost

Support the employee (ask what would help) and inform them of other supports that are available – this can include the company bereavement policy; flexible work options that can be applied; local or national bereavement supports; employee assistance programmes.

 

To support people the Irish Hospice Foundation has set up a national Bereavement Support Line – 1800 807077, a free service which is open Monday to Friday from 10am to 1pm. Employers are encouraged to share this support line with their employees.

 

Further details on bereavement and supporting people at this time can be found on the Irish Hospice Foundation website https://hospicefoundation.ie/bereavement-2-2/covid19-care-and-inform/grieving-in-exceptional-times/

 

Kara McGann

Head of Social Policy