These are very challenging times for everyone, but for people whose loved one is dying or those who have already lost someone close to them, they are especially tough.

With this in mind, Jutta Maria Widlake, Head of Social Care at St Luke’s Hospice Plymouth, has drawn on her many years’ experience of listening to, and supporting, terminally ill patients and their families to provide guidance she hopes will help anyone struggling with feelings of sadness, anxiety or loneliness at such a vulnerable time.

If you can’t visit your loved one…

The stringent safety measures to help stem the spread of COVID-19 mean the unthinkable has happened and many families are unable to visit their loved ones in hospital or in care homes. Understandably, this is one of the most frightening situations facing people, particularly if their relative is critically ill or dying.

The current crisis means that patients and their families no longer have the choices previously available to them, but some creative thinking can help you and your relative keep in touch even though you can’t spend time together in person at the moment.  Favourite music, poetry, films and prayers can be shared electronically, for example, and you could arrange for staff to place much-loved photographs or other comforting objects from home in your loved one’s room.

While using technology to stay in touch with that special person doesn’t take away the pain of not being physically there beside them, phone calls, or using Facetime or Skype, can help make this very difficult time a little easier, as can recording messages for them and using electronic cards to share memories.

It is also very challenging for hospital and care home staff when there are no family or friends there to help support the person they are looking after. Try to work with those involved in the care of your loved one by keeping in touch with them, and bear in mind that the pandemic situation is fast changing so their organisation’s visiting policy may allow for some exceptions. It’s important to check with them on a regular basis if you are unsure.

If you’re bereaved and feeling isolated…
The social distancing brought about by measures to protect people from COVID-19 mean there are limitations on the everyday activities that bring us into contact with each other. In addition, with each new day seeming to bring more distressing news, feelings of anxiety can be exacerbated.

If you have been bereaved, physical isolation and personal distancing can add to you feeling alone and make grief seem even more overwhelming. In addition, practical concerns and worry about the current situation may make it harder for you to address your grief, which can result in it getting stifled. Remember though, that there are things that can help.

  • Use the technology available to you to keep in regular contact with friends and family by phone, text messaging, email, video calls or social media. Make a commitment to initiate contact with at least one person in some way each day.
  • Look after yourself by getting some fresh air and exercise every day.
  • Try to keep to a regular routine, which can help you sleep better.

St Luke’s bereavement service is here to help you if your loved one had links with our hospice. We can be that listening ear for you over the phone and provide emotional and practical support. There are other services available, too – a good place to start is Cruse Bereavement Care, which has a free helpline on 080 8808 1677, or the Good Grief Trust at www.thegoodgrieftrust.org.

Funerals

Physical distancing is having an impact on how funerals are conducted and the participation of mourners, which is exceptionally distressing when your loved one has died. It may be that very few people are allowed to attend a funeral or that you choose to hold a private funeral  or cremation.

If you can’t attend the funeral, you might want to write or record a message that can be read out by someone who will be there – contact the funeral director for information.

After the funeral, check in with people by telephone, social media or a video call. This is a good opportunity for you to talk about the deceased and share your memories.

You might find it helpful to set some time aside to have your own personal memorial at home. You could take some time looking at photographs of the person who has died, light a candle, write a message to them, or follow any of your own cultural or spiritual rituals.

Providing it is safe to do so, you may be able to visit somewhere meaningful to you and/or the person who has died, keeping in mind current physical distancing rules.

Sending flowers is a simple, yet meaningful, gesture. You can send them to the funeral home or the home of the bereaved.

If you’re sending a sympathy card, you may choose to share a favourite memory of the deceased. A short, simple note can provide comfort and let’s those who are grieving know that you’re thinking of them.

You could also ask if there is an online book for friends and family members to sign and offer their condolences. Family members often find comfort in reading these messages and having them available online makes it easy to look back on them at a later time. In addition, if the social media account of the person who died is still active, you could post a message in memory of them there.

Making a donation in the name of your loved one not only pays tribute to them, but also creates a positive impact on the lives of others.

If you would like support, please call 01752 964200 or email bereavement@stlukes-hospice.org.uk