Coronavirus Pandemic Bereavement

Bereavement at any time is hard. Bereavement during a period of isolation with restricted movement and limited contact with family and friends is the hardest thing possible. 

During the global Coronavirus pandemic many thousands in the UK will face the loss of someone they know on top of the usual 600,000 annual deaths from other causes.  Whether the death is from Covid-19 or another cause it is likely to be traumatic at this time. Family and friends are unlikely to be with loved ones when they die and they will be cut off from their usual support networks. Physical comfort in bereavement will be limited and funerals may not be able to be attended.  There may also be increased trauma and anxiety over not knowing whether loved ones received the best care or over not being able to have the funeral of choice. Bereavement services have also been impacted with face-to-face support not possible.  Bereavement support is important under normal circumstances but now it is crucial for future well-being and mental health.  If you know of someone who has been bereaved please reach out to them to help.

On this page you will find advice about:

1) What to do if you are bereaved during the Coronavirus pandemic

2) UK Funerals – about planning them and what you can do if you can’t attend

3) How to help someone who is bereaved during the Coronavirus pandemic

1. What to do if you are bereaved during the Coronavirus pandemic

We are so very sorry you have lost someone dear to you at this very difficult moment in our national life.  Whether they have died of Covid-19 or another way, you are facing something unimaginable and unprecedented which will leave you feeling devastated and powerless.   We hope that the few thoughts and ideas below will help you to feel less alone and know that people care. 

i. Reach out

Although you may not be able to see people in person, please reach out to as many people as possible at this time using the phone, text, or internet if it is available to you. Grief is hard at the best of times but grieving in isolation will feel much worse.  

ii. Tell people how you are feeling.  

Whilst you cannot change what has happened, talking can often ease the pain and could help you to cope.  Bereavement can make us feel lonely and fearful and the current situation is likely to make you feel particularly so. These are natural thoughts and feelings which will be shared by many around the country at this difficult time and you are not weak or a failure for experiencing them. 

iii. Don’t feel bad about feeling angry or guilty. 

These are also very normal feelings in bereavement and may be particularly present now.  You may feel angry that you were not able to support the person or save them when they needed people most.  You may feel guilty about not having been able to visit or spend valuable time with them recently.  Tell others how you are feeling.  Expressing strong feelings can reduce their power.  And try to remember that you couldn’t have imagined the happenings of recent times so you cannot be blamed for not managing to travel or visit.  Try also to remember what you have done that made them happy.  

If you would like to talk to a GriefChat counsellor you can do so at any time through the AtaLoss.org website.

iv. Take good care of yourself.  

Eat well and try to get some fresh air or sunlight each day – also some rest and exercise. If you can’t go out, open a window or do some exercise in your home.

v. Try to keep to a regular routine. 

This could be hard but it can make a huge difference keeping to a regular routine of getting up and dressed and eating meals at the usual time.  

vi. Ask for practical help

Bereavement can be overwhelming at the best of times.  Let people know – friends, family or neighbours – what they can do to help.  It may be that someone can bring you shopping or a nutritious meal or something else you need or would like.  Or perhaps there are people who can help you with admin, funeral arrangements and informing others.  

vii. Spoil yourself where you can.  

You may not be able to do all that you would like to do but think about a treat that would be possible. Life may feel like it is caving in but it is still worth living.

viii. Protect yourself from further distress.  

You might find it easier to avoid or limit watching or reading the news at the moment, especially if you are feeling overwhelmed – and to choose to watch on the television something that you are familiar with that you usually enjoy.  

ix. Find some jobs to do around the home or garden (if you have one).  

At times when you have the energy, try to do some of your household jobs, no matter how small.  It can help to see things becoming orderly and also to have times when you are doing usual things.  

x. Don’t feel bad about struggling

Lots of people are struggling at this time and it is particularly understandable that you will be. Reach out to others especially when you are feeling bad and definitely if you are feeling that life is not worth living.  Try to pick up the phone and say so.

xi. Seek help from bereavement support services, especially those related to your loss.  

Take a look at the bereavement support services found on the AtaLoss.org website.  By using the filters you will be able to find the services that can particularly help with your loss.  There is a lot of useful information on websites you could read.  Contact as many relevant organisations as you can to benefit from their specialist or locally provided help, and to find people who can relate to what you are going through.  

xii. Go with the flow

Try to allow yourself to accept all the various feelings and reactions that come up and not to stifle or deny them.  Be assured that whatever you are feeling and doing and however that changes, it will be normal and will, in due course, settle down. 

Useful helplines and links:

Have a look at this short film on grief produced by the Loss Foundation. It will help you to understand what grief is and make sense of what you might be experiencing.

If you are feeling depressed you might find this short film on depression and advice on managing it helpful. 

See the resources section on the AtaLoss.org website which has many helpful reads about grief, how to help children and teenagers, reflective material, questions about faith in bereavement, and many other subjects that will support you on your bereavement journey.

Other helpful contacts:

Cruse Freephone National Helpline on 0808 808 1677.

Samaritans helpline: Phone 116123.  Available any time of the day or night.  Welsh speakers are also available.

The Samaritans website also has advice and resources for looking after your mental health during the Coronavirus pandemic and other ways to get help.

Dying Matters have also launched the #BeforeTheirTime campaign, to enable people to share experiences, talk through concerns and share social media messages of solidarity at this difficult time. 

2. UK Funerals during the Coronavirus pandemic 

i. Planning Funerals  (June 2020)

While funerals have currently been excluded from the ban on events taking place, funeral services are tightly restricted to minimise the risk of transmitting Covid-19 between those in attendance, funeral directors and crematoria staff. 

Funerals can only take place in crematoria at the moment as churches have been told to close to reduce the risk of spreading the virus and attendance is currently limited to members of the immediate family who are not self-isolating or in any of the high-risk categories (people over the age of 70, pregnant women and anyone with an underlying health condition).

The immediate family are:

Spouse/Partner
Parents/carers
Brothers/Sisters
Children (and partners)

Close friends may be permitted where the deceased had few relations. Funeral Directors will advise how many attendees the local crematorium is permitting. This has been about 10 in most crematoria. Government advice is to still restrict numbers although this now varies in the different countries of the UK. This should always be checked with the Funeral Directors.

  • Funerals should be arranged over the phone if at all possible.
  • Funeral Directors may currently be able to permit a visit to the Chapel of Rest although this will be restricted in time and number of visitors. You must comply with any hygiene rules in place and at-risk groups (Persons over the age of 70 years or those of any age with underlying health problems) should not visit. Please note, not all Funeral Directors will permit viewings.
  • The National Association of Funeral Directors (NAFD) is advising that limousines are only used if there is no alternative option.  If used, they will only be used to carry those living in the same household (in line with social distancing guidance) and limiting numbers transported in order to protect the driver.
  • Families are being asked not to publicly advertise the funeral details to reduce the risk of other, well-meaning mourners arriving unexpectedly as they will be turned away at the door, which could be distressing for them and the bereaved family.
  • It may not be possible to dress your loved one in his or her own clothes.
  • Family members will not be permitted to carry or touch the coffin. Flowers may not be permitted.
  • During funeral services at this time, mourners will be required to remain two metres apart from anyone not living in their household at all times and to refrain from making physical contact with anyone outside of their own household, including other family members. Social distancing must be observed at all times. 
  • All charitable collections will be done online. 

For more information about arranging funerals during the current situation, please contact your local funeral director.

If you are worried about paying for a loved one’s funeral, please visit the Down to Earth website for help and advice.

ii. What to do if you can’t attend the funeral

It is very likely that, because of current restrictions on movement, you will be unable to be present at the funeral of your loved one. In normal times, this is not something you could ever have imagined.  The death may have taken place at home, or elsewhere in the UK, or indeed overseas, but wherever it occurred you may be finding that you cannot be present at this final and most important moment of farewell.  

Saying goodbye at a loved one’s funeral is a significant part of our relationship with them. We may dread it of course, but we still want to be present and to get it ‘right’ as a fitting tribute to all that they were to us. A funeral also plays a very important part in accepting the reality of their death, so it is helpful to be involved and/or to mark the moment however we can. 

Here are some things you may be able to do:

  • Choose music.    It may be possible to choose the music you or your loved one would have liked for the service.
  • Live stream the service.  Ask your funeral director if the crematorium can live stream the service. This would enable those who can’t attend to feel part of it (yourself perhaps, included).
  • Audio or video record the service.  It may be possible for a relative who is attending or a member of the funeral director staff to record or video the event.  Permission will be needed from the crematorium, but your funeral director will be able to advise.
  • Send a message for reading out.  You may be able to write or record a message to be read out or played at the funeral by the celebrant or minister.  Contact your funeral director for advice.
  • Place a message in the coffin.  You can still place special messages for your loved one in the coffin if you wish.
  • Ask about the funeral.   If others were able to attend, ask them to call you afterwards so that you can hear their account of the event, and take the time to share your memories of the person.
  • Hold your own memorial at home.   Set aside the time while the funeral is taking place (or later) to hold your own act of memorial at home.  Perhaps look at pictures, play some of the person’s favourite music, write a message to them, light a candle or follow any of your own cultural rituals. The Church of England website offers a place for lighting and keeping an on-line candle alight for your loved one.

 Holding your own memorial

In preparation, take the time to think about simple things that would be meaningful both to you and to the person who has died. Try to be creative in small but special ways.  Is there something that they really enjoyed that you could include: a piece of music, a treasured photo or memento of happier times, even the scarf from the football team they supported?  Is there something you could read about them that reflects who they are?  Perhaps you could write about them and have it ready to read out? If you and/or your loved one are Christian, the Church of England website has some suggestions for things you can do as well as prayers that you may find helpful. 

Select a place where you will sit and be still and decide on the length of time you will be there.  If you know when the funeral is to be, you may like to hold your memorial at the same time.  If you are alone, call a family member or a friend and let them know at what time you will be observing the funeral. They may be willing to ‘join’ you at the same time either with technology, or in spirit wherever they are situated. 

At the designated time, you could light a small candle to mark the beginning of your ‘presence’ at the funeral. You could write down some thoughts or special memories as they occur to you, or simply speak them out gently, alone or with those who live with you and read out what you have prepared. 

If there are children in the household, do involve them.  Let them prepare drawings or things to say, let them see tears and also laugh at the quirky memories.  Answer their questions as truthfully as you can for their age. See our link below on supporting children during the pandemic.

When you reach the end of your allotted time, say something in conclusion and blow out the candle. There will not, of course be the usual gathering of friends over a cup of tea or a glass of beer, but you could nonetheless make yourself something nice to eat and drink, and share with anyone who is with you or telephone someone you feel close to and invite them to share a few memories with you.

It is a sad fact that many people around our country, and indeed the world, are facing the death of a loved one at this moment and so perhaps spare a moment to think of or pray for them as well.  We are united in grief and in love, even though we may not know each other personally.

Finally, begin to think of what you might do to say goodbye with others in the future.  Funeral directors, ministers and celebrants understand the need to say goodbye and are likely to be willing to cooperate with you over your wishes for a special memorial that you could hold with others when it is possible to meet again.  You have time to think about this and discuss it with others to ensure it encapsulates all you would want to say about the person and what you would like to do yourselves to say goodbye. You might like to plant a tree, bury or scatter ashes, put up a plaque, create a memory album or hold a service in church.  You may not have been able to be at the actual moment of the funeral but your goodbye and marking of their life can be just as meaningful and special. 

3. How to help someone who is bereaved during the Coronavirus pandemic

We encourage churches to consider running The Bereavement Journey course to support bereaved people in their locality. The course can now be run online.  See all about this here and thebereavementjourney.org.

For more helpful links and helplines for children and anyone bereaved during the Coronavirus pandemic please click here.

For more information on bereavement, supporting the bereaved and finding support services for someone who is bereaved please visit www.ataloss.org.