Grief and Mourning in the Time of Covid-19

Grief and Mourning in the Time of Covid-19

by Dr. Sandi Howlett

“Grief is love with no place to go” – Jamie Anderson.


Grief is hard in the best of times. Normally, we gather for support and storytelling after the death of a loved one, friend or co-worker. Friends bring food to help nourish us.   Together we have rituals to remember our loved one in both religious and secular ways.   We share meals, memories, tears and love.

These are not the best of times.

Grief involves the thoughts and feelings that arise when someone we care for dies.   Mourning is the outward expression of loss. This includes rituals and practices created to support the bereaved and honor the life of the deceased.   Both grief and mourning are impacted with the ‘social distancing’ in place for these trying times.

When families and friends are not able to gather, this creates a void when we most need the support and reassurance of those who care for us. Even funeral services are now limited to 10 people.

Because of pandemic protocols, people who are dying now, of COVID-19 or for other reasons, may end up dying alone.   This makes the process so much harder for all of us.

When you combine this with the fears everyone is experiencing right now, these are troubled times   As we read of well-known people the world is losing to the virus and as numbers continue to rise, we need to realize that there is a real possibility that we will lose someone we know before this is over.   And we will grieve.

So how do we handle the grief we are facing?

Part of grief is uncertainty and disconnection. This crisis compounds the sense of unnatural separation.   Healing depends on finding something comforting, honoring or helpful. While there are current restraints of some actions, there are still healing steps which we can take.

Go ahead and plan the funeral or memorial – with the gathering date to be determined.   Discuss with your family what could be the best way to honor your love one. Together, talk to your minister, rabbi or officiate over the phone. Make a plan to be carried out when that becomes an option. This will help with your own grief as well as offer a meaningful focus for some of your feelings.

For the bereaved:

  • Create small rituals you can do at home. Light a candle. Read comforting passages.
  • Start a journal of memories and feelings, or letters to your loved one.
  • Practice self-care: Rest. Nap. Be gentle. Sing. Scream. Cry. Laugh.
  • Spend time outside each day. Look for beauty and kindness.
  • Move…even if only in your home or yard.
  • Seek out on-line grief support services.

For friends of the bereaved:

  • Call and write your friends. Express your condolences, offer your support and share a memory of their loved one.
  • Share stories of the one who died.   They connect us.
  • Be a good listener.   When people are grieving, they often need to tell their story over and over.   Listen with compassion.
  • While not feasible to visit or take food at this time, you can have food, flowers or gifts delivered to your friend.
  • Stay in contact so when a funeral or memorial is scheduled, you can attend.

While we are to ‘socially distance’, that really means physical space.   This is a time to reach out and strengthen our connections. We are people helping people. We will get to the other side of this.   We do not know when or quite what that will look like.   The grief will still be there to be felt and healed.   While not everything can be cured, everything does have the potential to heal — even in the time of Covid-19.



Dr. Sandi Howlett is the Bereavement Specialist for Hansen Mortuary.   She works with groups and individuals healing through the death of a loved one. She may be contacted at [email protected].