Covid-19 has both led to more people being bereaved as well as massively disrupting the normal ways in which we grieve and are supported. Bereavement has been an important issue for us throughout the pandemic with a research and policy hub, podcast, a dedicated session in our Loneliness in Covid series and now a report writing up our learnings.
Speakers at our event highlighted that there is a complex web of thoughts, behaviours, feelings and even physical sensations accompany grief. Cruse and St Christopher’s Bereavement Care are leading organisations in this field and they highlighted actions that organisations can take. Indeed they are worth bearing in mind in our personal life as well.
The first key message is that organisations should engage directly with people who have been bereaved. That can be about being present and offering people the space to talk. There is real value in communicating in different ways, offering practical and peer support. Thinking about the timing of grief, such as anniversaries or a ‘crash’ after the funeral is also valuable.
Services focussed on bereavement adapted a great deal during Covid-19. Some such as bereavement cafes moved online. There were also other activities that were more about practical engagement such as making and sharing meals. Others are different forms of memorialisation and remembering such as making memory boxes, art-making or writing.
Organisations also highlighted some gaps and challenges. This is most clear in gaps in bereavement support and community mental health services. Outside the report this has been highlighted by one of the contributors to our Loneliness Explored podcast series, Dr Lucy Selman. She is a co-author on a preprint released this week that finds that the majority of people who tried to access bereavement support found it difficult to do so due to issues such as long waiting times or not being eligible for services. They also found that one in four people in their survey of people who had been bereaved said that friends or family were unable to support them in the way they wanted, due to reduced social contact because of the pandemic.
Other issues were digital divides limiting people’s choice of services. Meanwhile, men find services based around conversation less attractive.
There are good ideas to help services that participants at the event wanted to share. During Covid-19, a number of organisations not focussed on bereavement had increased collaboration with bereavement specialist organisations or had got specialist advice. The value of support for staff volunteers dealing with these difficult issues became clearer. In some situations this can include clinical supervision for volunteers.
`Looking to the future, organisations working in this area think that grief has been put on hold with a continuing need for support. We will need to create opportunities for people to express grief communally with monuments and memorials in communities and nationally.
We know that as the restrictions ease around funerals as lockdown eases, people will be able to have access to the rituals they need to mourn and grieve. As well as aiding in the bereavement process, we know from the Dying Well work done by the What Works Centre for Wellbeing that if you are able to plan for your death such as your funeral and involve your family in this planning process, before you die -this can help the bereavement process.