When my first daughter was born, a friend noted: “your capacity for grief has greatly and suddenly expanded.” And it had. The friendship, love, pride and the beauty of certain moments – whether or not we notice them in the moment -- are the fruits of our close relationships. As these treasures mount, so does the potential pain we will feel when suddenly that loved one is gone. As for me, I suppose my own capacity for grief has skyrocketed since that day – which also means there are more people (and a dog) in my life with whom I have strong and loving ties.
We observe mourning rituals because they are personally and culturally important and because we need a script to follow when we are in such unfamiliar territory. Those actions – funerals, wakes, shivahs, burials and unveilings -- represent our external, “public” expressions of loss.
We also have an internal experience, called grief. Unlike mourning, grief does not follow a timeline, or have an end date. Grief is often called a journey, and aptly so.
In one sense, we travel through grief as we experience its different stages, including the grief we start to feel even before the loss. Interestingly, the word “hospice” in medieval times referred to a way station for travelers . . . a place providing sanctuary for footsore and weary pilgrims.
Grief also feels like a constant companion – often a quiet one, sometimes disruptive, sometimes a comforting, and wholly unpredictable.
When my sister died I indeed paid the steep price of love. And I experienced grief as both the trip, and the companion. I have noticed the change in how I feel the pain, more a dull ache now than a sharp pain – and I have felt sad, even guilty and almost disloyal about that. That is the trip I am on.
I also have sudden realizations, like understanding that some of my memories were only shared between the two of us, that no one else would understand. Or that our common traits and quirks are now just mine. I think about how she would have handled pandemic times, what we would have decided about coloring our hair, and how we might talk about politics. Or I will stare at her photo and have a little conversation or a laugh. These make up the grief companion I travel with.
During this time of pandemic, the mourning and grief of the bereaved are layered with the tremendous emotional impact of current circumstances. Survivors of one who has died in isolation due to pandemic restrictions, may feel not only profound grief but also trauma from their loved-one’s rapid decline, their inability to comfort them, and not being with them as they died. Trauma is what happens in the brain when an individual experiences something that takes them beyond their normal emotional coping capacity. Experiencing trauma includes symptoms such as anxiety and flashbacks, and it interrupts the normal grief process.
I believe that many bereaved during these past months have, at best, a shaky foundation for moving through their grief. To those who feel unmoored and alone, I offer sincerest hope that they will find stability to start their journey, and happy memories to keep them company along the way.
The Bereavement Program at Connecticut Hospice is a resource for those bereaved who need grief support after the loss of a loved one under our care. It has become quite apparent that the grief that our bereaved are dealing with has been complicated by the COVID-19 pandemic. The fact is that many friends and family members, who were unable to visit their loved ones at all, due to the visitor restrictions for hospitals, nursing homes and assisted living facilities, had not seen their loved ones for months prior to admission to Connecticut Hospice in Branford. This has become part of the grieving process for many bereaved, unable to comfort their loved ones, or be the advocate at the bedside. The bereaved we are caring for are grieving what feels to be layers of emotion related to the unexpected crisis of the COVID pandemic in addition to the grief related to the death of their loved one. The Connecticut Hospice Bereavement Program continues to navigate this journey with the bereaved, providing comfort and support during a very difficult time, including group meetings. For more information, call Jennifer Stook, Director of Bereavement Services, at 203-315-7544 or visit www.hospice.com/bereavement-program.
Every September, the Connecticut Hospice community of patient families, friends, and caregivers gathers to celebrate and remember loved ones who passed away during the previous twelve months. Connecticut Hospice understands the special importance of this year's event (honoring patients lost 8/1/19 - 7/31/20) as a safe opportunity to gather while also providing closure for families and friends who might not otherwise have had the chance during this challenging year.
Connecticut Hospice is proud to invite you to its first live, virtual event. This event is not just for Ct Hospice families but for all those struggling with loss. Please share this event with anyone you think may benefit. Simply click on link below to bring you to our YouTube channel.
This link will also be available on our website @ www.hospice.com and Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/CTHospice