By Lydia O’Kane
During the month of November, which is known as the month of the Holy Souls, people remember those loved ones who have gone before them. Remembrance Sunday, also observed this weekend in the UK, acknowledges the courage and sacrifice of those who served their country in two World Wars and later conflicts.
This year, the world has been battling the hidden enemy that is COVID-19. Many people have lost relatives and friends to the virus, and restrictions have made the grieving process even more difficult.
As England begins a second month long lockdown, a new poll released on Friday highlights the impact coronavirus curbs are having on bereavement and funeral rituals.
The grieving process
The Savanta ComRes/Art of Dying Well poll shows that 55% of people surveyed “feel that impacts of the pandemic have made the grieving process especially difficult.”
It also shows that “the most commonly felt impact was being unable to attend the funeral or cremation (21%), closely followed by social isolation from friends and family following the death; adhering to social distancing rules at the funeral/cremation; and visiting restrictions in hospital/care homes (all 18%).”
Margaret Doherty is Director of the Centre for the Art of Dying Well at St Mary’s University, Twickenham, London, which commissioned the poll. Speaking to Vatican Radio, she stressed that this has been a time of tremendous change.
“What’s been the hardest is that people who haven’t been able to attend funerals, or they’ve attended and have had to be socially distanced.”
For most people, being infected by COVID-19 meant a spell at home in isolation, but for others, it resulted in loss of life in a short space of time leaving loved ones in shock.
“People have been finding their hope, they’ve been finding their consolation through family and friends, through their faith communities; for some through telephone helplines and through counseling. And more and more there are these wonderful services springing up, manned by volunteers who are so generous with their time and want to help,” Ms Doherty said.
In the latest Art of Dying Well podcast, psychotherapist, Julia Samuel, who has worked with the bereaved for over 30 years said that “grief has been suspended”:
“All the normal feelings are intensified with a sudden death. We talk about 'grief with the volume turned up'. The rituals that would normally happen, such as having a memorial where people that love the person that died gathered together, have either been stopped or very depleted. Most of the people I talk to feel that their grief has been suspended.”
Faith and funeral rituals
Another finding in the survey reveals “the central role of the funeral ritual in the grieving process, and how the ways in which we’d normally seek support are no longer available.”
On this point, the Art of Dying Well director noted the importance of faith at this time, “and that great sense of consolation during the service and after the service, in terms of when people are able to gather and meet and share stories and share memories.”
This year, Remembrance Sunday is going to be an extra special day, both this weekend and Armistice Day on the 11 November, Ms Doherty noted.
“It’s a time when we can all step back and reflect and think of those who have been on the frontline during all the wars we’ve experienced and those who have been on the frontline during this pandemic, whether it’s the bus drivers, the nurses, the doctors, the cleaners; all those who have supported us through these difficult days," she said.
In a year that’s seen a deluge of grief and bereavement due to this pandemic, there will be a further opportunity for reflection with the start of National Grief Awareness Week which takes place in the UK from 2-8 December. Many churches will be holding online remembrance services during November.