Sunday 31 May, 2020

Death and COVID-19: How to find closure when a loved one dies alone

iStock photo

iStock photo

By Lynford Simpson

The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) has changed life in many ways, including how we grieve the loss of a loved one or celebrate what should be a happy occasion such as a wedding.

With the infectious nature of the contagion, persons stricken by the respiratory virus are not allowed visitors while they are hospitalised. It means that, at a time when individuals need family support the most, they are left to fight the potentially life-threatening illness alone. In fact, thousands are dying alone each day.

To make matters worse, many families are denied the opportunity to conduct a proper funeral for their loved ones because of restrictive rules being implemented by governments all over the world as part of measures to contain the virus. And, with borders closed, it means family and friends can’t travel for the occasion.

Leahcim Semaj

Renowned psychologist, Dr Leahcim Semaj, is offering advice as to how persons whose loved ones are afflicted by COVID-19 or who may have succumbed to the disease, can grieve, thus finding some amount of closure at a most difficult time.

With the COVID-19 outbreak, Semaj admitted: “It’s harder to get closure as any kind of consolation usually involves hugging, holding, and just being silent with each other.

“Things like Zoom and Skype are encouraging people to use digital media to be able to see the persons physically and to talk to them. But it’s not the same thing as physically being there."

Semaj pointed out that some funeral homes in the United States have made arrangements whereby they allow a limited number of people to congregate for the funeral and then they broadcast the service via Skype or Zoom “so you can stay outside in an area where you are properly socially distant (from other people) and you can share in the service”.

The highly respected psychologist noted that, with some things, we need the collective vibe.

“For example, sports, as a lot of people don’t like to watch sports alone so that’s why you go to a sports bar or your brethren’s house as celebration is something we do with somebody else,” said Semaj.

“Also, in times of grief, you need people around you, so yes, it’s going to be hard for people to cope and for them to get closure... especially if there’s death, that is understandable and they may have to even do it (the thanksgiving service) later on."

Said Semaj: “You hold on for now, but then later when things are better you come together and you have a remembrance. You do something to celebrate the life of the person later on”.

He said the same is true for marriages, as it is not necessary to postpone one’s wedding due to the coronavirus pandemic as the couple, a witness and a marriage officer are enough to proceed with the ceremony.

“So you can go ahead with the wedding and you will have the celebration later on when everything is back to, or as close, to normal as possible,” Semaj concluded.

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