Helping the Bereaved During a Pandemic

by Maureen Lyons Andrews

These days hold grave uncertainty as we live through a worldwide pandemic. Our dilemma is searching for a normal life. We are not in control, and we wrestle with so much loss of our daily routines.

For many our loss is not just trying to follow shelter-in-place orders or social distancing rules. Our feelings of isolation and separation from our families, friends, social lives, and workplaces are terrifying, to say the least. It’s understandable to feel anxious and panic-stricken. Loss of one or two incomes that helped to provide food and a roof overhead for our family can create feelings of helplessness, failure, and guilt.

The COVID-19 virus has taken away more than our normal way of living, though. Many of us have experienced painfully our loved ones being hospitalized and separated from all family members as they try to fight the virus. We struggle with sadness as our loved ones are put on ventilators and into drug-induced comas in hopes of saving their lives. Only medical staff are allowed to be in the hospital as our loved ones struggle to live and then to take their last breaths! We think: Where is my parish priest, and why can’t he be at my loved one’s bedside? Why, oh why, dear Lord, can’t I be there? I need so desperately to reassure my loved one that I love him or her. I need to embrace, to touch, and to whisper that I am here with you and that you not alone! I need to express my appreciation for everything that you have done for our family and to thank you for a life well-lived. Our hearts are heavy as we grieve and try to make sense out of this tragedy.

Our next step normally would be found in the comfort of our friends and family gathering for the wake and funeral Mass and burial. Sadly, we struggle with the news that our normal religious traditions are not allowed. There will be no funeral Mass for our loved one, or only a few close family members can attend. The wake will only consist of a few guests for a short time. The funeral directors are trying their very best to support the bereaved. The parish priest suggests a memorial Mass and celebration of life to be held in the future when larger gatherings are allowed.

This is all devastating news for a grieving family and their parish community of neighbors, friends, and co-workers to hear. Many have found comfort in social media allowing them to keep in touch. Friends have added stories of how their departed loved ones have impacted their lives. These testimonies usually include photos accumulated over the years. It is with these kind gestures to the bereaved that healing can begin. People reaching out and showing sympathy in a heartfelt way is the Christian way.

What else can we do to help the bereaved? Listen to their story. Listen over and over again. Whether sending a condolence card, sending a cooked meal, or making a phone call to listen, know that these kindnesses will be felt and appreciated. As we all show compassion to others at their time of loss, the world becomes one in God’s love. Remember that words matter. Our kind words could very well be the hope that the bereaved needed to get through an especially tough day. Be a guiding light, and accompany others on their journey.

We all cling to the thought of finding our old methods of honoring our deceased. We strive for normalcy. It is my opinion that closure truly cannot begin to be processed until we have our rituals back in place, beginning with a simple hug or tight embrace with no words needing to be stated. We are in a state of suspension until we can participate together in a religious ceremony that we value and allows for closure. These are trying times for humanity. Together we will prevail. May God bless all. Together we are one in God’s name.

Maureen Lyons Andrews is the co-author of Handbook for Those Who Grieve.

Maureen Lyons Andrews

Maureen Lyons Andrews

Maureen Lyons Andrews is the founder of her local parish's grief recovery program, and she served as an active member of several bereavement programs in the south suburbs of Chicago.

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