Ten Freedoms for Using Ceremony During the COVID-19 Pandemic

by Alan D. Wolfelt, Ph.D.

If someone you love has died during the novel coronavirus pandemic, you have come to grief in an exceptionally challenging moment in history. You may have been separated from your loved one as they were dying. You may have been unable to view or spend time with the body after the death. You may have been prevented from having the full funeral you wanted because of gathering and travel restrictions. And people who care about you may not have been able to be near you to support you in your grief. These and other pandemic-related barriers to the cultural grief rituals we rely on may be making your grief journey especially painful.

I am sorry you have been so deeply affected by this hardship.

As a grief counselor and educator, I know that ceremony helps mourners through the early days and weeks of their grief and can also support their healing in the months and years to come. Funerals are for the living. When funerals are personalized and rich in elements that are meaningful to friends and family, they help mourners set off on a healthy mourning path.

But if you couldn’t have an immediate funeral because of the pandemic, or if the ceremony you were able to have felt incomplete or unsatisfactory, I want you to know that you can still use ceremony to help you and others who are mourning this death. I hope these ten freedoms provide you with affirmation and ideas.

  1. You have the freedom to embrace ceremony.

The funeral does more than acknowledge the death of someone loved. It also helps provide you with the support of caring people. It is a way for you and others who loved the person who died to say, “We mourn this death, and we need each other during this painful time.” If others tell you that funerals are unnecessary or old-fashioned, don’t listen. They simply haven’t been educated about all the reasons why humans have relied on funerals since the beginning of time.

  1. You have the freedom to hold an immediate private ceremony.

If you were not able to have a bedside ceremony, funeral, committal, or any form of service shortly after the death, you can choose to have a private ceremony right now. Ask a spiritual leader, officiant, family member, or friend to help you plan a simple online meeting using Zoom, Teams, or another tool. You can also hold a small candle-lighting ceremony at your dining-room table.

  1. You have the freedom to plan one or more ceremonies to be held later.

Especially if you couldn’t have the ceremony you wanted at the time of the death, you can still hold one or more memorial ceremonies in the months to come, when gathering and travel restrictions are lifted. Remember that a delayed ceremony is a much healthier choice for your family than no ceremony.

  1. Yes, you have the freedom to have more than one ceremony!

Ceremony helps grieving people heal. And multiple ceremonies are especially helpful in supporting families through complicated loss circumstances such as yours. For example, you might have an online ceremony now followed by a full ceremony and gathering later this year and then a smaller graveside or scattering ceremony on the anniversary of the death. You will find that each time you hold a ceremony, your grief softens and integrates into your ongoing life a bit more.

  1. You have the freedom to plan a ceremony that will meet the unique needs of your family.

Keep in mind that any ceremonies you plan can and should be customized to honor the unique person who died as well as meet your unique family’s needs and wishes. There are no real rules about what you should or shouldn’t do, and your ceremony can be spiritual, religious, or secular—whatever you wish.

  1. You have the freedom to feel all of your feelings about the circumstances of the death as well as any ceremony difficulties you may be having.

Because of the challenging and limiting circumstances in which your loved one died, you may be experiencing heightened anger, anxiety, guilt, regret, helplessness, despair, and other difficult feelings in addition to your normal grief. Remember that your feelings are naturally complicated because the situation is complicated. Talking out your feelings regularly with a trusted listener will help.

  1. You have the freedom to make use of memories.

You may feel “stuck” in this pandemic moment, unable to carry out all the actions you would like to in honor of the person who died, but you still have the freedom to lean upon your memories. During this dormant time, gathering photos, video clips, memorabilia, and life stories will help you acknowledge the reality of the death and honor the life that was lived. Sharing memories with others will help everyone as well. Then, when it comes time to have a memorial service in the coming months, photos and memories will already be prepared.

  1. You have the freedom to reach out and connect.

The isolation you may be experiencing as a result of the pandemic is not conducive to healing. You need and deserve the support of others during this challenging time. Others mourning the death need support as well. So, even if you can’t gather in person with others right now, you can still reach out for and accept support. Talk openly and honestly with the people in your home and be as empathetic as you can. To communicate with others outside your home, video calls are probably the best substitute for face-to-face conversations. Voice calls come second. After that, emails, texting, and social media work too. And don’t forget the power of the handwritten letter! The point is to stay connected as much as possible AND to be open and honest in those communications about whatever it is you are feeling or struggling with at the moment.

  1. You have the freedom to ask others to be involved in any ceremonies you plan.

Funeral and memorial ceremonies can have lots of moving parts and may require a good deal of planning. Many hands make light work. You can ask several people to help with the planning and carrying out of tasks. In fact, ceremonies in which many people take part are often the most meaningful to everyone involved. You do not need to do this alone.

  1. You have the freedom to move toward your grief and heal.

When it comes to grieving the death of this precious person, you may feel somewhat in limbo during the pandemic. An immediate ceremony will help you feel a degree of progress. In addition, you can move toward your grief by acknowledging and expressing your feelings (see number 6, above), doing memory work (number 7), and reaching out to others (number 8). Giving attention to your natural and necessary grief in all these ways is essential.

Thank you for entrusting me to teach you about the ten freedoms for using ceremony during the pandemic. Despite the restrictions, I hope you will find ways to use ceremony to befriend your grief and begin to heal. You are in my thoughts and prayers. Godspeed.

About the author

Alan D. Wolfelt, Ph.D., is an author, educator, and grief counselor. He serves as Director of the Center for Loss and Life Transition and is on the faculty of the University of Colorado Medical School’s Department of Family Medicine. Dr. Wolfelt has written many bestselling books on coping with grief, including Grief One Day at a Time and First Aid for Broken Hearts. Visit www.centerforloss.com to learn more about grief and loss.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Grieving a Coronavirus Death: Help for Special Circumstances

by Alan D. Wolfelt, Ph.D.

 

If someone you love has died of the novel coronavirus, it is likely that you are facing a number of challenging circumstances. Grief is always difficult, but it is especially difficult whenever a death is sudden, unexpected, and unfolds in ways that violate our expectations and puts up barriers to the cultural grief rituals that help us through.

I have been a grief counselor and educator for over forty years, and this pandemic is unlike anything I have encountered. I am sorry you have been so deeply affected by this hardship.

First, it is important to understand that grief is always normal and necessary. It is part of our love. But in complicated loss situations, the grief that follows often gets complicated, too. It is essentially normal grief in an abnormally challenging loss situation.

If this is where you are finding yourself right now, I hope this article will offer you some affirmation, comfort, and hope in the weeks to come.

If you couldn’t be with the person who was dying, or if you couldn’t view or spend time with the body after the death

In most cases, infectious-disease protocols are keeping loved ones apart from those who are critically ill or dying. Whether you were across the country or just down the road, you probably felt frustrated and maybe even distraught that you couldn’t be by your loved one’s side. While the enforced separation may have been necessary, you may understandably feel cheated of precious last moments and goodbyes.

Sometimes hospital caregivers have been able to use technology to help families communicate with loved ones dying of COVID-19 (or other causes during this period of restrictions). I hope this was true for you, but I also realize that these measures are not the same as being there.

Holding the hands of the dying and spending time with the body afterward are ways that we as human beings acknowledge the reality of a death and begin to embrace the pain of the loss. These are two essential mourning needs that will be naturally more difficult for you to meet in the weeks and months to come.

I encourage you to talk out your thoughts and feelings about these circumstances with people who are good listeners. When the time is right, I also encourage you to reach out to the hospital and/or funeral home staff who cared for your loved one and ask them to tell you anything they can. If you can reconstruct what happened even a little bit, you will likely feel better. Often our minds are searching for a few details and assurances, and when they’re provided, we can rest a little easier.

If a funeral wasn’t possible or has been delayed

Funerals are essential because they help us begin to meet all of our mourning needs. The mourning journey often takes years, and a good funeral sets us off on a good path.

Funerals help us acknowledge and accept the reality of a death, share memories, convert our relationship with the person who died from one of presence to one of memory, give and receive social support, express our grief out loud, consider the meaning of life and death, and help us start to think about how to live life forward with meaning and purpose.

Yet I realize that in this pandemic, many gatherings have been rendered impractical or impossible. I’ve been encouraging funeral directors and families to try to have a brief immediate ceremony, even if only by Zoom or Skype, followed by a larger memorial service once the restrictions are lifted. Some people have also been holding an informal, intimate service in their own homes to mark the death and honor the person who died.

Please know that it’s never too late to have a ceremony, and especially if you weren’t able to be with the dying person or the body afterward, holding several ceremonies is a good idea. Ask a clergyperson, celebrant, or friend to help you. You will find that people who were unable to support you at the time of the death will want to provide you the support you need and deserve. And inviting friends and family to support one another is something you will always be glad you did. To achieve the goal of multiple ceremonies, you might have an immediate candle-lighting service in your home, a graveside or scattering service as soon as possible, and a tree-planting ceremony on the anniversary of the death, for example.

Essentially, ceremony and ritual have the power to partially fill some of the holes created by the COVID-19 death circumstances. And it’s never too late to use them.

If you’re separated from your support systems

While most of us are sheltering in place, we’re apart from the people we would normally talk to, hug, and hold close during a time of great loss.

If this is true for you, I urge you to use all the technology tools you can to reach out to the people you care about. Video calls are probably the best substitute for face-to-face conversations. Voice calls come second. After that, emails, texting, and social media work too. And don’t forget the power of the handwritten letter! The point is to stay connected as much as possible AND to be open and honest in those communications about whatever it is you are feeling or struggling with at the moment. Your candor will encourage others to be honest as well, creating the opportunity for mutual support and kindness.

In addition to creating a lifeline in the time of separation, these tools will help you maintain and build your important relationships so that when gathering and travel restrictions are finally lifted, you will have the strong connections and good momentum you need. Everyone will be on the same page and ready to support one another in person. You can even use this homebound time to plan ceremonies, build online memorial pages, and gather photos, video footage, and memorabilia of the person who died.

If you’re angry, anxious, self-blaming, or feeling guilty

In complicated grief circumstances, these feelings are especially common. They’re normal! Feelings aren’t right or wrong—they just are. Please don’t make it even harder on yourself by judging your feelings or thinking that you’re abnormal.

Maybe you’re angry about how the person who died contracted coronavirus or was cared for while ill. Maybe you feel anxious that you or someone else will get the disease (and perhaps die), or maybe the death has given rise to anxiety about finances and other life realities. Maybe you blame yourself about some aspect of what happened. And maybe you feel guilty that you are still living while your loved one is not.

Again, these and other feelings are normal and common in grief, and especially in complicated grief. Whenever you’re having an uncomfortable or “stuck” feeling, the key is to express it as much and as often as it takes for it to begin to soften. You express it by sharing it with a friend, writing about it in a journal, or talking about it in a support group or to a grief counselor, for example. Expressing your grief is called mourning, and mourning is how, over time, you step one day at a time toward healing.

I understand that right now, the traumatic nature of your loved one’s COVID-19 death and your thoughts and feelings about it may color every aspect of your grief. It is part of your grief, but it is not the totality of your grief. Other factors that contribute to your grief include the nature of the relationship you had with the person who died, your unique personality, your religious and cultural backgrounds, your gender, your age, your previous experiences with loss, as well as others. Your grief is a complicated blend of thoughts and emotions, most of which stem from your love for the person who died. Over time you will come to find that your grief is as much or more about the life than it is about the death.

If you are able to muster the courage to actively mourn and use ceremony, over time you will find a path to a renewed life of meaning and purpose. Remember, you are not alone, and there are no rewards for speed. I hope you will share your coronavirus story and grief tips with me at drwolfelt@centerforloss.com.

About the author

Alan D. Wolfelt, Ph.D., is an author, educator, and grief counselor. He serves as Director of the Center for Loss and Life Transition and is on the faculty of the University of Colorado Medical School’s Department of Family Medicine. Dr. Wolfelt has written many bestselling books on coping with grief, including Grief One Day at a Time and First Aid for Broken Hearts. Visit www.centerforloss.com to learn more about grief and loss and to order Dr. Wolfelt’s books.

 

Love. Respect. Tributes. Unstoppable.

We believe the need to mourn and pay tribute to a life lived carries on regardless of recent events.

To begin healing and draw support from each other we have created an orderly and safe process for all to participate in the fundamental ritual of paying your respects, when it is needed most.

 

A Letter from Nathan Morris

I’ve lived through a crumbling Berlin Wall, a terrorist attack which killed thousands, wars, one of which took my best friend—so many burdensome and grief-stricken moments. Now, I write in the midst of a pandemic. An event which has been unlike anything I’ve seen. It went from something not of concern, to something many feared overnight. Dr. Carroll stated it best that during such a time, we are to remain compassionate and resilient. Because, deep down, we are those things. We don’t have to be too tough now. The elderly don’t need that. We don’t need to waiver. The vulnerable need us. Leaders are the least anxious people in the room.

Dr. Carroll recently wrote, “Mr. Rogers once said that in times of crisis and catastrophe, his mother told him to look for the helpers, because there will always be people helping.” We are here. Not just us, they are all around. Principals live-streaming to their pupils, reading a story each night on Facebook to continue a sense of normalcy. Millennials delivering food to the elderly and shut in. There is good. There is resilience. Our family is here. We remain vigilant and willing. We are willing to step up at a moments notice to honor the lives of those who mean so much, while simultaneously gripping the hands of the bereaved, guiding and loving them through unchartered waters. We are here. Your family deserves the absolute best, and until I breathe no more, will continue devoting my life to seeing that through for you. Look for the helpers. We are here.

– Nathan Morris, President

How to Talk to Children About the Coronavirus Pandemic

by Alan D. Wolfelt, Ph.D.

As the coronavirus spreads across North America and our daily lives are transformed, we all must be aware of the need for good mental-health care. Obviously, it’s a stressful time. Families are confined to their homes. School is canceled. Many businesses are closed. Workers are being laid off en masse, causing financial distress. And then there is the illness itself, COVID-19. Will we or someone we love become critically ill or even die? We are all naturally worried about the “what ifs” and “what nexts.”

The youngest among us are not immune to all of this stress. They sense it in the adults around them, and they see it on social media and other sources of information. Their own day-to-day routines have been completely disrupted.

When it comes to painful, complex realities, it can be difficult to know how much we should share with children. Many people have an instinct to protect kids. But as someone who has worked with and advocated for grieving children for many decades, I’ve learned that what they really need is honesty combined with steadfast care.

Here are a few foundational dos and don’ts.

Follow the child’s lead

Pay attention to what the child seems curious or worried about. For younger children, these concerns may manifest through their play rather than directly. You don’t need to volunteer a lot of information. Instead, invite them to ask questions. And try saying just a little at a time. Children are often satisfied with short answers and small “doses” of information. When they want to know more, they’ll let you know, especially if you are someone who is always straight with them.

Talk openly and honestly to children about what is happening

It’s important to be honest with children about difficult circumstances. In fact, I often say that children can cope with what they know, but they can’t cope with what they don’t know. Be factual. Talk to them about social distancing and that it’s necessary to keep people safe. Explain to them that it’s mostly elderly people who are at risk of getting really sick or dying. If finances are an issue, it’s good to talk to them about that too. If someone in your family has been affected by the virus, keep the child updated. And if your family finances are being stressed, as they are for so many people right now, try not to overburden your children with this challenge. It’s OK to let them know about the need to curtail unnecessary spending, for example, but also keep in mind that financial issues are grown-up issues. We must be careful not to make children over-worry about this or feel responsible.

Use developmentally appropriate language

Use simple, concrete language when you talk to children about the pandemic. It’s OK to use the words “coronavirus” and “pandemic,” because children are hearing those terms, but you will need to explain them in ways that they will understand.

Share your feelings

As I said, we are all naturally worried about and disoriented over the pandemic. Circumstances are changing rapidly from day to day, and the future is unknown. Children who spend time with you will pick up on your anxiety, so it’s essential to tell them what you’re worried about. If you don’t, they are likely to imagine even worse scenarios–or think that they are somehow to blame or at risk. And it’s also important that you practice good self-care to manage any severe anxiety you yourself may be having. If your anxiety levels are too high, theirs will be, too.

Understand magical thinking

Young children are susceptible to what’s called “magical thinking.” They may believe that their thoughts and behaviors can cause bad things to happen. If they didn’t want to talk to Grandma the last time they saw her, for example, and she gets sick, they may secretly believe they caused or contributed to her sickness. So be attuned to any feelings of guilt or shame the children in your care may be hiding, and explain clearly to them that none of this is their fault.

Be patient, kind, and reassuring

Most of all what children need is reassurance that they are being cared for and that their family and others they care about are safe.

Routines help children feel safe, so if their daily routine has been turned upside-down, it’s important to create a new routine. Even if you’re stuck at home, you can still have breakfast together at a certain time and follow a daily schedule. Keeping evening rituals consistent is also essential. And while all of this is going on, try extra hard to be patient and kind. I know it’s extremely challenging to manage children patiently when school and activities are not there to help share the “it takes a village” burden, but keep in mind that your children will likely have strong memories of this strange interlude in their lives, as will you. You don’t need to be perfect. You just need to be caring, consistent, and honest.

It’s also important to emphasize to children that lots and lots of grown-up doctors, scientists, and government workers across the world are working to solve the problem. It is our responsibility, not children’s. We are working hard on treatments and vaccines as well as ways to help families who need help. We will get through this.

And I hope you will take advantage of any extra time you have during the quarantine to use for cuddles, hugs, and play. Physical closeness and care go a long way in helping children feel safe and loved.

About the Author

Dr. Alan D. Wolfelt is a noted author, educator, and grief counselor. He serves as Director of the Center for Loss and Life Transition in Fort Collins, Colorado, and is on the faculty at the University of Colorado Medical School’s Department of Family Medicine. Among his many bestselling books are Healing A Child’s Grieving Heart and Finding the Words: How to Talk with Children and Teens about Death, Suicide, Homicide, Funerals, and Other End-of-Life Matters. To order Dr. Wolfelt’s books and for more information, visit www.centerforloss.com.

A personal message to our communities from Nathan Morris, President

In an effort to do our part as good neighbors and as responsible citizens of our Commonwealth, we aim to be proactive rather than reactive, and to offer the families we serve and the general public the most conscientious public health standards available to us.

For the immediate and indefinite future, our funeral home will ensure that all funerals and memorial services are simulcast using Facebook Live in order that you, our families, and those loved ones whom we serve receive the exceptional honor and homage they deserve, while keeping the public as safe and healthy as possible.

We thank you for your joining us in this effort, and look forward to reversing this practice as soon as we are advised it is safe to do so.

A Message for Our Families and Visitors

In the interest of public health and safety, and in compliance with Governor Andy Beshear’s direct advisement (per his public address at 4PM CST), we will host visitations, funerals, and memorial services for immediate family ONLY at this time.

In an effort to do our part as good neighbors and as responsible citizens of our Commonwealth, we aim to be proactive rather than reactive, and to offer the families we serve and the general public the most conscientious public health standards available to us.

As a result, visitations and services will not be public.

For the immediate and indefinite future, our funeral home will ensure that all funerals and memorial services are simulcast using Facebook Live in order that you, our families, and those loved ones whom we serve receive the exceptional honor and homage they deserve, while keeping the public as safe and healthy as possible.

We thank you for your joining us in this effort, and look forward to reversing this practice as soon as we are advised it is safe to do so.

Launching a New Website to Better Serve You

At Morris Family Services, we understand that death does not abide by any type of schedule, which is why it’s so important to have a 24/7 resource available to our community. We’re proud to announce the launch of our brand-new website, which contains all the information you need to make informed decisions, from our service offerings to location details through pre-planning resources and comprehensive grief guides.

We have redesigned this new site with your needs in mind: everything is easy to find and aesthetically pleasing. The navigation menu has been simplified so that every page can be located in the click of a button. Additionally, our new website is built to be mobile-responsive, which means it will function beautifully on any screen, from desktops to phones and tablets.

We will continue to update this blog and expand our resource section to ensure local families have access to the most current and relevant information. Follow us on Facebook and be the first to know when new articles are available.

 

If you have any questions or feedback you would like to share with our staff, please reach out to us today.