COVID-19 is impacting all aspects of our lives...

... including how we experience grief and bereavement.  During this time, those recently bereaved may have to deal with increased trauma and maybe cut off from their usual support network. 

The following resources may help with some of the different situations and emotions you may have to deal with. 

Living with grief may be an extremely lonely at times. Talking with friends and family can help us cope after someone dies. Try to avoid isolating yourself, and even though we are in a situation where we need to self-isolate it is important to stay connected. Technology is good for this, through video messaging and social networking.

Being physically separate from your support network can make feelings of loneliness and grief more intense, especially if you are having to stay in the same house you shared with your loved one who has died as this can bring  up painful reminders that you cannot get a break from.

You may be isolated with your whole family who is grieving at the same time, and although this may be supportive for a period of time, tensions and resentments may flare up making it difficult for you all to help each other. 

With children and teenagers being isolated it may be difficult to keep them occupied and to help them deal with their own emotions and fears. 

Isolation may also make it harder to process grief. At times like this when there is a constant stream of new and distressing information, people can find themselves distracted from dealing with their grief. They could be worrying about the situation as a whole, or worrying about themselves or others.

Practical concerns and considerations may also come up. The person who died may have been the one who offered the practical or emotional support during challenging times, and now they are not there. Friends and family who usually would have been able to provide practical support, such as helping with meals and shopping may also be isolating or preoccupied with their own family’s situation.

How you can help yourself

Reach out to others through video messaging, social media and the telephone. 

Look after yourself and get rest. Go out for a walk or bike ride for some fresh air each day. Keep to a regular routine of getting, up and dressed and eating meals at the usual time. 

Don’t feel guilty if you are struggling. Reach out to others who might be finding it difficult too, you may be able to help each other. Seek practical help from friends, family or neighbours. 

How you can help someone who is grieving

Try to stay in contact with friends and family who are grieving even if you cannot visit. Let them talk about how they are feeling and the person who has died as this can be really helpful. Maybe send a letter, card or note to let them know you are thinking about them. 

If you know that someone may struggle with practical day to day things, you can still drop off supplies and gifts keeping your social distancing and delivering them contactless. 

If a loved one dies as the result of COVID-19 and its associated complications, there are a number of things which maybe especially difficult for family and friends to deal with.

Rules surrounding infection control may mean that family do not get the opportunity to spend time with their loved one who is dying, and the illness may have progressed quickly, leading to feelings of shock.

If they were not able to be present for the death and cannot view the body, it may be difficult to accept the reality of the death. This may exacerbate feelings of angst and distress.

There are many stories in the media about COVID-19 that highlight the traumatic nature of deaths which grieving loved ones maybe exposed to. In addition, they may also have witnessed the distressing scenes directly. Some people may experience recurring mental images of these scenes, which may put them at risk of developing Post-Traumatic-Stress Disorder (PTSD).

If health services become stretched, friends or family may also have concerns about the care the person received before they died. This may lead to feelings of anger and guilt.

How you can help yourself

Reach out to family and friends to talk things through. This can be done remotely through video messaging, social networks and calling them on the phone. 

If you are feeling very distressed and the feelings persist, contact your GP. You can also reach out to us, our therapists are working remotely and can get in touch through video conferencing and phone calls.

How you can help someone who is grieving

Stay in touch with grieving friends and family through video messaging, social networks and phone calls during this self-isolating period. Let them talk about how they are feeling and their loved one who has died – talking can be one of the most helpful things after someone dies.

If you are worried about them, you could suggest they contact us, or their GP for further advice and support.

There are restrictions in place during COVID-19 in relation to funerals and memorials, which are distressing for family and friends whose loved ones have died. For many people, they are unable to say goodbye in the way they wanted as people cannot come together for a funeral, tangihanga or memorial. 

What are the rules?  

To stop the spread of COVID-19, gathering together for public funerals and tangihanga is not permitted while New Zealand is at Alert Level 4. This applies to all deceased persons, regardless of when and where they died, or the cause of death. It includes public gatherings at burials, cremations, memorial services, funeral wakes, processions or receptions and social gatherings, both indoors and outdoors.

Funeral directors are encouraged to carry out burials and cremations as quickly as possible. Where this is not possible, you may want to offer your families and whānau other options, including:

  • holding the funeral or tangihanga after the Alert Level 4 restrictions ease. Bear in mind that we don’t know when that might be and there could be practical or cultural reasons why this is not an option
  • live streaming or providing photos of the service and/or burial
  • cremating the deceased and burying the ashes at a later date, holding a memorial service later when restrictions on gatherings are lifted and it is safe to do so.

Viewing of bodies

There will be an opportunity for family and whānau who have been in the same isolation bubble as the deceased to go to the funeral home to view the body.

Other family, whānau, friends or others in separate isolation bubbles cannot go to the funeral home for viewing.

Viewing of bodies must only take place in a funeral home managed by a funeral director registered with their local authority. Funeral homes have been identified as a controlled environment during Alert Level 3 and 4.

The number of people who will be able to view the body will be negotiated with the funeral director and will depend on the size of the funeral home.

Funeral home staff must work within the physical distancing protocols as outlined by the Ministry of Health. The funeral director must ascertain the size of any one ‘bubble’ participating in a viewing and may have to split the ‘bubble’ to accommodate physical distancing, depending on the size of their funeral home facilities.

A funeral director or member of the funeral home staff must be present in the funeral home at all times and meet physical distancing rules while any viewing is in progress.

Funeral directors must keep a register of all persons entering the funeral home for the purposes of any viewing or religious/cultural rituals which take place. This register must include:

•    exact day and time the viewing took place
•    full names of all viewing
•    current physical address of the viewers’ isolation bubble.
•    email addresses
•    mobile phone numbers.

In addition, family and whānau who have been in the same isolation bubble as the deceased may go to the cemetery or crematorium for the burial. It is important that they have their own transport within their isolation bubble (i.e. nobody from another bubble can drive them or attend the burial).

The rules are the same whether or not the person died of coronavirus, and whether the funeral has been planned in advance or not. 

How you can help.

Reach out to the grieving family and let them know you are there for them. Connect through video messaging, social networks and phone calls. 
While others lives move on after a death and messages of support tail off, it can become a really hard time for those who are grieving.  In times of social isolation it will be even more important that they have someone to talk to, so try and stay in touch and let them know you are thinking of them.

If you didn’t know the person who has died you can still help a friend who has been bereaved. Reach out to them and let them know they are not alone and your heart hurts for them. They may want to talk about their loved one and share memories with you. Listen. Be there.  Acknowledge the death of their loved one,
use their name, text, call and check in regularly. 

You can offer them some practical advice too. Share the information and suggestions on this page, or offer to help tell people about the alternative funeral arrangements. 

Listening to a distressed loved one, whether you knew the person who died or not, will be hard for you too. Reach out to us here or to friends and family.

The restrictions and safety measures introduced in response to COVID-19 affects practices around funerals and funeral homes in the coming months. 

Below are some tips and advice for talking to children about funerals in this period.

Should children attend funerals?

The best advice is to give children and young people the choice to attend the funeral or not. Some may chose to attend while others may not wish to go. It’s always best to give them the option. 

Children may also want to see the body of the person who died: to say a final goodbye, to begin to understand the reality of death, to express their loved one last time.

How has coronavirus affected funerals?

The national response to the COVID-19 outbreak means that children and young people who have a loved one die in this period probably won’t have the chance to make the choices they normally could.

At the moment, members of the same household who have been socially isolated together are likely to be able to attend a funeral. Different rules affect viewing the body of the person who died at a funeral home. 

The most important thing that parents and carers can do is to reduce the impact these enforced changes have on children’s experiences. A good start is to acknowledge that things will be different but will still be full of meaning and depth.

There are several ways to do this.

Children could write and/or draw cards to be placed on or in the coffin or choose a toy or something meaningful to be placed with the person’s body. They could also write a tribute to the person who died which can be read by the person taking the service.

They might also be able to dress in bright colours, wear a football shirt, or have a special flower in their buttonhole in memory of their loved one on the day of their funeral. You could also host a personal memorial at your home on the day of the funeral.

How can friends and family help a bereaved child or young person?

The wider family and friends may be feeling especially helpless to support the bereaved family from a distance. As well as sending thoughts and keeping in touch, sharing memories of the person who died is a practical and important way to help. These can be shared at the time of the funeral and also kept as a store of memories for the children to explore over time.

Here’s a starter that could, for example, be emailed or sent to friends and family on social media:

Sharing memories.

Although wider family and friends may not be able to attend a funeral they may still want to honour and remember a loved one by creating an online tribute fund. You can set up an online tribute fund to remotely post pictures, videos or music, light a candle or share memories. For more information please visit our Tributes page.

What about observing faith and cultural practices during COVID-19?

It will be particularly difficult for children and young people whose culture or faith requires certain practices to be performed in particular ways for the person who has died. Maraes, Churches, mosques, synagogues and other places of worship are closed to the public although faith leaders can still conduct services in places such as a crematorium or graveside. Children and young people may believe that their loved one has not been treated appropriately and may need reassurance, using the language of faith, that everything that is being done is respectful and necessary.

How might children and young people react?

Alongside all of the tumbling, sharp feelings of grief a child or young person will be feeling because someone important has died, will be added feelings of confusion and frustration because, at the present time, there can’t be a traditional funeral. Young people may feel they are letting down a relative or friend if they are not present at the funeral. Younger children may find it even harder to understand what has happened without the chance of observing the funeral.

How can you support a bereaved child or young person at this time?

Keep talking and keep listening to what children are saying about not being able to attend the funeral

Acknowledge that this is a strange and difficult time, even without the restrictions cause by the virus; children will be relieved to have their concerns noticed.

Keep children informed, within their understanding, about what will happen to their relative’s body and how the funeral will take place. 

Reassure children. This is a worrying time for children anyway and the combination of bereavement and concern about the effects of the virus may make them particularly anxious about ‘not doing things right’. Reassure them that their relative knew they were loved and cared for… and not attending the funeral is the right thing to do at this time.

Reach out for support. We have many resources on our website to help parents and carers support grieving children. 

Look after yourself. 
Simply doing the best you can at this time is all that your children need. Take time to look after yourself too.

Feelings of anger and blame are normal after a bereavement, and this can be exacerbated after sudden or traumatic death.

Anger is a common response to feeling out of control, powerless and abandoned. If a loved one has died as a result of COVID-19 you may feel angry and helpless that this situation arose at all. You may feel angry that your friend or family member did not receive the care they should have, especially if hospitals become overwhelmed and difficult decisions had to be made. You may feel angry about the virus, how it evolved, spread, containment and treatment measures. This is all normal.

Feeling guilty is very common when someone has died and the need to blame someone after an untimely death can be very strong. Sometimes blaming ourselves can be easier than blaming the person who died or others. If someone has died as a result of COVID-19, you may have the urge to blame yourself for not being able to protect them or to be with the them when they died. 

How you can help yourself

Coming to terms with anger, blame and guilt will take time and it may be emotionally challenging. People will be doing their best to help, but you may find that your anger has led to an impulsive outburst in frustration. If you have said or done something to hurt someone when you have been angry, it may help to apologise.

How you can help another person

Stay in touch with friends and family through video messaging, social networks or phoning them.  Let them talk about how they are feeling – talking can be one of the most helpful things after someone dies.

Children and young people will be affected by what is going on around them at during COVID-19. Their lives are changing and they will have picked up the fears and anxieties about the virus and the possibility that they or someone they love may get it. For children who have already been bereaved, their anxiety may be worse.

If you are isolating as a family, your normal routines and activities which usually help children and young people chill out, relax and cope with the stresses of life are not available. Being together in close quarters 24/7 tempers may to fray. 

How you can help

Talk honestly with your teens and kids children about  the facts of COVID-19 and their emotions. Ask what they know – they may be getting misinformation and myths about the situation from friends or social media. 

Don't overload them and consider their age and understanding. With younger kids you may need to give information in small chunks. Talking about the situation and about the possibility of death and dying is an ongoing conversation.

Be reassuring and explain that the illness is often mild and most people recover. Be honest about the fact that, very sadly some people will die. It’s OK to let them know if you don’t know the answers to some of their questions. 

Let them know about any plans for what might happen if one of the family gets ill. Focus on what you’re doing to stay safe, such as social distancing, staying in your bubbles, washing your hands regularly and properly, and not touching your face.

Keeping a structured day with a set routine, for mealtimes, school work, exercise, breaks, playtime/downtime and bedtime can help. If you can’t leave the house for exercise, Les Mills has paired with TVNZ1 on TVNZ on Demand to do regular exercise classes. There are others online too. Help young adults and kids keep in contact with friends and family through video messaging, social networks and the phone.

Where possible, let children and young people make some choices about what they are doing, as this may help give them some sense of control over their lives.

If someone dies, we have more information about how children may react and how you can help them.  Read more.

With the media spotlight on COVID-19, there is a constant discussion of the crisis and dying, which may exacerbate feelings for those with anxiety and depression as well as trigger difficult feelings and memories of past bereavements. 

How to help yourself

Taking regular breaks from the news and social media is important. It is helpful to keep to a regular daily routine which also includes some time to relax and get some exercise such as a walk or bike ride.

If friends or relatives are talking constantly about the situation, try asking them if you can talk about other things for a while. They might appreciate it too.

How you can help other people

If you know a friend who is feeling anxious, maybe suggest talking about something else for a while.  Chat over video messaging, your social networks or phone.

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