The fallout of grief for those who lost loved ones during the coronavirus crisis could be similar to that of the September 11 attacks, a bereavement charity has warned.
Paul Finnegan, director for Cruse Bereavement Care in Northern Ireland, said the constant reminders of death coupled with lockdown restrictions may result in traumatic grief for the bereaved.
He said the organisation was already dealing with complex grief circumstances, which can leave those who have lost loved ones feeling stuck and struggling to cope with the emotional impact of their grieving.
Not everyone who is grieving is comfortable or able to talk on the phone about the death of a loved one 💜
We also have a free, online chat service 💬
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— Cruse Bereavement Care (@CruseCare) December 16, 2020
“This kind of complex grief can be catastrophic going forward, in terms of it’s not going to be all over and dealt with in 2021,” he told the PA news agency.
“This is going to be a situation like 9/11 where people are still traumatised by what happened that day.
“We will help communities heal but it’s for the long haul for organisations like our own. We’re going to be dealing with trauma and mental health on a scale we have never comprehended before.”
Mr Finnegan said that being less able to receive in-person support from family members and a reduced number of mourners at funerals could all lead to a greater sense of isolation and loneliness.
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Meanwhile, restrictions on activities and being required to stay at home more mean less distractions away from the bereavement for those who have lost a loved one.
For those struggling with their grief, Mr Finnegan advised staying connected to others – through phone calls and even letter writing – and planning ahead for milestones, such as Christmas.
“Have a seat at the table, light a candle, celebrate things that you would have normally celebrated with that person,” he said.
Looking ahead to 2021, he called for a more open discussion around death and dying to stop it being such a “taboo” subject.
“Our hope for next year would be that as lockdown restrictions continue to ease and things begin to change, families will finally be able to acknowledge and progress with their grief,” he said.
Funerals and wakes have remained scaled back since March, with limits on the numbers of mourners permitted to attend due to the pandemic.
Tamsin Oakley, whose grandfather died of prostate cancer aged 85 in March, shortly before the first national lockdown, said it had been difficult to arrange a suitable send-off in these circumstances.
As the funeral for grandfather-of-eight Les Ernest Elliott could not be held at their local church, it instead took place on the family’s farm in Frogmore, a village in Devon.
“I don’t think you can grieve in quite the same way, because life feels so different anyway,” Ms Oakley told PA.
“We haven’t had that time to reflect and we have had to deal with it on our way. There has been so much going on and it didn’t go unnoticed, not at all, but it almost felt like it did.”
Sam Tyrer, managing director of Co-op Funeralcare, said that like many other professions, the funeral sector saw “dramatic changes” this year due to the coronavirus crisis.
“The restrictions on funerals had a huge impact; not only on families, but also on our colleagues as key workers,” she said.
“In our profession, we naturally want to offer bereaved families exactly what they wish for when arranging a funeral.”
Research by Co-op Funeralcare earlier this year warned the UK was facing a “grief pandemic”, after almost half of bereaved adults said they were denied a final farewell during the first national lockdown.
“As a profession we had to react quickly and adapt our services to enable families to continue to create meaningful and unique tributes,” she added.
“We are supporting families in many ways to remember and commemorate their loved ones so that lives can be honoured now and also when restrictions ease.”
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