By Jenna Cocullo, Local Journalism Initiative
COVID-19 has complicated the grieving process as family and friends have to find a new normal in saying goodbye to those they loved and lost.
That is especially true during the holiday season where family celebrations won’t look normal either.
The Chatham-Kent Hospice’s grief and bereavement support group has seen an uptake in referrals since the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, and is not expected to slow down anytime soon.
“There are a lot of challenges people are facing before the death of their loved one, and after in their grief, because they’re feeling, a lot of them, quite isolated. People can’t access their support system as easily,” said Sally Reaume with the hospice.
More than 12,700 Canadians have died of COVID-19. Chatham-Kent has only seen three individuals pass away from the virus (as of Dec. 14), a 0.57 per cent death rate, well below the national average. Reaume said COVID-related deaths are not the reason the services are needed more.
The Canadian Grief Alliance – a coalition of national leaders in grief and bereavement – wants the federal government to develop a national grief strategy “to bolster the country’s grief services to meet the growing demand. Existing and recently announced mental health initiatives do not include grief services,” according to their statement.
Reaume said Chatham-Kent’s Hospice has been following the alliance’s efforts closely, believing the impacts will be felt not only with family members but also health-care workers who are losing patients to the pandemic.
Reaume would like to see that everyone has access to grief services at no cost. The hospice’s services opened up in 2019 and are funded by the Ontario Trillium Foundation. However, with only two staff members, and service open to everyone, Reaume said there may be a wait.
“Even though the loss may not be due to COVID, everything has changed from the way that visitors are allowed in the hospitals to see people in their last days, to the rituals at the funeral homes, which have to be limited for safety,” Reaume said.
A critical point in the grieving process can be put on hold for many family and friends that aren’t able to have the funeral that they had hoped for their loved one, Reaume said. Some of them are even having to wait to future dates in order to have the funeral they would like to have.
“We encourage people to find things that are meaningful for them. They can have a private ritual, a candle-lighting ceremony with the family members that are there. We encourage people to find things that help them to celebrate their loved one during this very difficult time and to seek out support.”
This season will provide extra struggles for grieving families who have a hard time during the holidays.
During the pandemic, the hospice has been holding walking groups to help connect others in a safe manner. This month they hosted virtual Coffee Talk, and a virtual workshop on coping with loss during the holidays was to be hosted on Dec. 15. If Chatham-Kent remains in the lower protection zones, they will also host a smaller in-person workshop.
“Oftentimes people feel understood by other people who are going through what they are. And it’s not that friends and family don’t understand. But sometimes it’s another person who’s lost their spouse, or another person who has similar family dynamics, or another person who has a strategy that works. There’s a collective support that people feel in the group. Feeling like they are not going crazy because they’re forgetting everything or not the only ones crying every day.”