As we face the challenges of dealing with the impact of the Coronavirus, it is worth remembering that, in Australia and around the world, we have faced significant challenges before. Apart from the devastation of the two World Wars in the 20th century, the world was confronted with the Spanish Influenza pandemic of 1919 and then the Great Depression of the 1930s. Both created havoc, but they came separately.
What is unprecedented about COVID-19 is that we are dealing with the health impact of a major pandemic, and at the same time, the social and economic impacts it is having on our whole lives.
So, most generations of the 20th and 21st centuries are in uncharted and difficult waters.
Many aspects of our normal life and routine have been changed, some radically.
The health impact here and around the world is brought to our attention in the news every day. We can’t help but worry over the risks to our own health and to the health of our families. We may well know someone who has contracted the virus and may eventually know someone who has died from it, either in Australia or overseas, if that is where family and friends may be. We may also see daily media reports and stories that connect us to others’ experiences of loss, and which may remind us of our vulnerability and that of those around us.
From observing the experiences of those overseas, we may be afraid that medical or hospital support will not be available to us should we need it.
Voluntary social isolation is foreign and bewildering, and can take a particular toll on mental health when people are cut off from their usual supports. For some, the loss of freedom is particularly difficult.
The economic impact is that lives are directly affected by job losses, business closures and a generally insecure world in which, right now, it’s hard to see quick solutions and an end to the instability which surrounds us. Financial insecurity is high and the institutions that support us are faced with unfamiliar territory as they try to find ways to maintain that support.
Fear, uncertainty and grief
For many of us, the result of all this is fear, uncertainty and a sense of loss—which are core components of grief. We are challenged to find ways to deal with these very natural feelings.
The uncertainty created by COVID-19 is particularly difficult. We may feel vulnerable to circumstances over which we have little control. The impacts of the virus challenge what we perceive to be the predicted, and predictable, order of our lives, even as the Australian COVID-19 infection numbers fall and some of the restrictions on our movements are lifted.
Talking about our fears is an important first step to help us keep them manageable.
Social distancing practices have made talking with others somewhat difficult, but keeping in touch with family and friends by phone and the Internet is an important way to express the feelings you have. If you are isolated, there are helplines very ready to take a call and to provide support and connection
Throughout the pandemic there have been many creative ways to stay connected—through Facebook and other social media platforms—singing, creating art, sharing information and experiences.
We do not have to be alone.
Attendance at funerals
One of the most difficult restrictions which we may face or have faced with COVID-19 is not being able to be with a loved one who is dying or who has died. In normal times we know it is important for people who are dying to have loved ones with them, and for loved ones to be able to provide the love and comfort that can mean so much in the time of death. In Australia, the death rate from COVID-19 has been low in comparison with other nations, but even so, death is a possible and difficult outcome of the virus. And people will still die from all the usual things.
The need for connection continues into the time after death with the preparation for, and attendance at, a person’s funeral. Under COVID-19 restrictions the number of people who are able to physically attend a funeral has been limited. This limitation comes at a time when people from the deceased person’s wider network of relationships may wish to be there to say their own farewells and to support the immediate circle of family and friends. The absence of that memorial opportunity imposes a particularly difficult emotional burden on everyone, and one with which we are not familiar. In these different times, some have used internet connections to share the experience with those who cannot be there in person, in ways that might not have been considered previously—sometimes providing valued connection with those who are overseas or interstate. Funeral eulogies (real or virtual) enable the wider circle of friends and acquaintances to find out more about the person who has died and to enrich their memories of the significance of that person’s life.
When people we know have lost someone close from COVID-19, or any other cause of death, we may need to look to examples of alternative, creative ways to support and keep in touch with the bereaved. Whether it be by phone, email, Facebook, or whatever means we can access (even a note in the mailbox) our efforts to reach out can mean a great deal. At this time we might write thoughts and experiences about the deceased person and create our own virtual eulogy, or at least contribute to it.
Staying in touch with the latest developments in the progress of the pandemic is important, but it can also be distressing. It’s important to find a clear and trustworthy source of information, and not be afraid to ask questions about your concerns. It may be helpful to limit exposure to continual updates, however, as this may simply raise anxieties and feelings of helplessness.
Our governments and health authorities have provided recommendations about living in the COVID-19 environment to protect ourselves and our families physically and to guide us as we move back towards a more normal life.
However, as COVID-19 infection rates in Australia remain low and restrictions on our freedoms are easing, many people are still facing serious financial difficulties and significant social and emotional challenges remain. Maintaining our connections with people is as important now as at any time in the course of the pandemic so far. For anyone who needs help to cope with what they are feeling, there are resources available.
While GriefLink doesn’t offer direct grief counselling support, it provides a wide range of information and resources focused on bereavement and the grief that follows the loss of a loved one through illness, accident, violence, or suicide. In this COVID-19 environment, we might grieve for people we never knew.
Finally, GriefLink would like to thank all those who have worked on the frontline of this pandemic on our behalf. We have seen their courage and determination, and have sensed a community spirit that will surely carry us through to the other side of the challenges we face.
Please be assured of our concern for you and our wish for your health and wellbeing in these difficult times.