Support the Grieving During COVID-19

The Dutch theologian Henri Nouwen wrote, “The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing… not healing, not curing… that is a friend who cares.”

When someone we care about is grieving, our instinct is to be present, embrace them in a hug and offer our support.  We want them to know they needn’t bear this heavy load of grief alone. Attending a visitation and funeral are ways to not only demonstrate to those who have suffered a loss that we recognize their pain, but also offers us the opportunity to express our own grief and honor a life that impacted our world. Under normal circumstances, grief experts would advise us that our mere presence is enough to help those who are grieving; that words aren’t always necessary. 

So, how do we support and express our concern for the grieving during the COVID-19 crisis, when for everyone’s personal safety, we cannot physically be present with them? Here are some suggestions that borrow from historical mourning practices but have a modern twist.

  • Attend the funeral or memorial service virtually. Postponing a funeral or memorial service usually puts grief into a holding pattern and makes it difficult to move forward. Cedar Memorial can live stream services from the Chapel of Memories. Small groups of people can watch it together. If you’re not able to view it as it’s happening, a video of it will be available for approximately 60 days that can be viewed when it fits your schedule.

  • Phone the one who is grieving and ask them when they would have time for a chat. By scheduling time with them, it will give both of you the opportunity to have a meaningful conversation that does not feel rushed and has minimal distractions. In addition to asking them how they’re doing, take this opportunity to share a memory of their loved one or describe the impact they had on your own life. Be sensitive and listen for cues on how much the griever wants to talk. If they seem open to it, ask them questions about their loved one’s life or how they envision their life-changing in the coming days. If the one who is grieving doesn’t want to talk, or they just feel they can’t, simply let them know that you are thinking of them and will be happy to listen to them, if or when they are ready.

  • Write a heartfelt note or email. Let them know you share their grief and that they are in your thoughts. Write a paragraph about a favorite memory or what their loved one did that made a difference in your life.

  • Ask them when it would be a good time to have a meal delivered to them. Many restaurants are staying open only through their carry-out and delivery options. This is two good deeds in one.

  • Use your phone camera to record yourself lighting a candle in memory of their loved one and post it to Facebook or other social media site they use. Encourage your mutual friends to do the same.

  • Find recommended books on the nature of grief and send it to your friend.

  • If you have artistic skills, create a piece of art for the griever. If you draw or paint, use a photo from online to create a portrait or collage. If you know how to knit or crochet, you can make a blanket or throw. If you’re musically inclined, you could record a performance. These gifts can be offered as reminders that their loved one will always be near. When they look at the art, it will spark memories of happier days. When they snuggle in the blanket, they’ll remember the warmth of a hug. When they hear the music, they’ll remember the times they celebrated with their loved one. Alert the griever that you will be either mailing a package to them or (if it’s safe for you) leaving the package by their front door.

Grief is the price we pay for love. As the author David Kessler said, “How long will you grieve? You’ll grieve as long as you loved.” Grieving gets easier but never completely goes away. Helping those during the most acute period of pain is a kindness we cannot afford to stop in these strange times. We just have to adjust our support.