The death of a loved one is one of the most difficult and heart-breaking events we can have in life. The pain, disbelieve and myriad of emotions that follows can be overwhelming and numbing.

Grief has may stages to it and there is no right or wrong way to grieve and neither is there a time frame to it.

Although extremely painful, grief is a normal reaction to any loss and ultimately helps us to heal. Our lives will never be the same again, and yet, somehow over time we get used to this new way of ‘being’ and living. We find ways to regroup and move forward without our loved one there. Our memories keep us connected and in time tears give way to laughter and remembering the happier days when we were together. Though our loved ones are no longer physically with us, they never truly leave us.

Grieving and dealing with our loss can be an extremely lonely time. Talking with friends and family and sharing memories can be one of the most beneficial ways to cope after someone we love dies.

One of the biggest challenges of loss during the COVID pandemic is that because of restrictions, social-distancing and lockdowns we are not always able to be around family and friends and to give each other solace and hugs at a time when we need them the most.

In Ireland, we have a long tradition of coming together in the days after a death. We all have many rituals that happen around a death, and they are a source of comfort. These may involve a wake, where we invite visitors to our home and they can pay their respects to the deceased, we share food, drink and stories, a funeral, a burial or cremation. There is a gathering and meal after the funeral and usually a month later another gathering where a church service, prayers and a get-together take place. We share stories and memories about the person who died. We laugh and we cry. We pay tribute to the person who died through our mourning.

The COVID pandemic has changed the traditional ways we mark our grief. For the moment, it’s not possible to come together and to gather in one location. It is not possible to have a large funeral. It may not be possible to receive the company of those who wish to offer condolences. However, we can support ourselves and each other in different ways.

This may mean you find yourself on your own during this time, which can increase your feelings of loneliness and isolation.

Or you may be isolating as a family together, which may be supportive at times but can also make tensions and arguments bigger and more upsetting. Children and teenagers may find not being able to be with their friends difficult, and families may find keeping them occupied more challenging when also dealing with their grief. Again, it is important to remember that we all grieve differently.

Given the global impact of COVID it is hard to escape from information about its impact and the losses that others are experiencing. Watching the news on TV, reading the papers, or posts on social media can exacerbate your own feelings of sadness. You may feel overwhelmed by all the information and daily numbers of those with the virus and related deaths and feel the need to take some time out from such information in order to concentrate on looking after yourself and your own loss. This can make you feel guilty, but remember to be kind to yourself and do things that are for you and about you.

Keeping in contact with family and friends has now taken on different forms, phone, text, Skype, Zoom etc and especially older generations may find this alien and difficult to grasp. Learning new skills and using new technology may feel like

an additional burden when you already feel exhausted and overwhelmed. However, it is worth pursuing these new ways of contact, as they will help keep you connected with others who love you and are concerned for you. Seeking practical and/or emotional support is not a sign of weakness.

The pandemic may make it easier to become more isolated and withdrawn, when your energy and interest in connecting with others is low. It may help to have a regular day or time of day to connect with others and even if you don’t feel in the mood to talk try and keep the regular contact if only for a few minutes so that you see a friendly face, and know that your family and friends care and want to be there for you.

It is important to take good care of yourself, to allow yourself to go with the flow of your emotions, and to acknowledge how you feel. Remember, there is no right or wrong way to grieve, but looking after yourself, eating well, getting rest and returning to normal activities will be of great help and benefit to your physical well-being as well as your emotional health.