Apart but Not Alone: How Grief Support Prevails Amid a Pandemic
Like many emotions of the human experience, grief is a natural and common response to loss. At some point in our lives, we all experience bereavement and it’s important for people to allow themselves to grieve in a way that best meets their emotional needs. The past few months have brought an influx of loss followed by a wave of sorrow within our communities. Whether that be losing a loved one, sudden unemployment or other ambiguous losses, COVID-19 has caused unforeseen anguish, causing the demand for bereavement services to rise.
Serving one of the hardest hit communities amid the pandemic, The Jewish Board of New York saw the increased need for grief support and quickly mobilized to respond. While the human and social services agency already had two bereavement support programs in place, they added additional groups and individual opportunities to ensure anyone in need of support during this time could find it. However, unlike the delivery of their grief services pre-COVID, the additional bereavement support is conducted virtually due to physical distancing measures.
In order to increase access to support, The Jewish Board Senior Director, Dr. Marilyn Jacob, said the agency conducted a lot of new training with existing staff that specifically addressed the unique parameters that surrounded grieving amid the pandemic. Usually, individuals will go through a natural process in their grief, with time and communal support being the ultimate healer. However, the pandemic has brought a heavy amount of restrictions on in-person groups and gatherings. This eliminates the important, instinctive support group that individuals usually have when grieving.
“Because of the nature of COVID deaths, they are often sudden and leave family members to grieve in a vacuum,” Dr. Jacob said. “There aren’t a lot of large in-person funerals, and it’s not possible in many areas for people to go to their synagogue, mosque or church. Usually people can find natural grief support through events or seeing friends and family, but that can’t happen right now.”
Instead of gathering in person, many people are hosting funerals or memorial services virtually. In some respects, this is beneficial as it allows people from all over the country or world to join. Yet there’s no denying it’s not the same as seeing people face-to-face and offering a hug or other simple gestures, which often go a long way.
The lack of natural support systems during this time is one of the reasons The Jewish Board has seen such high turnout rates in their virtual bereavement support groups. A lot of individuals who may have not considered or known of bereavement support groups in the past are now attending in lieu of natural support systems. These virtual sessions are also helping eliminate geographical barriers to care, as anyone throughout the state or neighboring area can attend. Dr. Jacob said this has given The Jewish Board the opportunity to expand their support and instigate more group sessions with full attendance.
“In the past, these support groups depended on getting enough people to one location,” Dr. Jacob said. “Now, it’s a lot easier because people don’t have to commute, and we can pull people from all over to come be a part of our sessions.”
The main goal of bereavement services is to help normalize emotions and help individuals better understand and process what they’re going through. In group settings, people are encouraged to share their stories and lean on each other for support. Grieving is a necessary and healthy way of coping with loss. For some people addressing with others who are going through something similar can be extremely powerful, even if it’s through a computer or mobile screen.
Moving forward, Dr. Jacob hopes to see virtual bereavement services continue, even after the pandemic when restrictions are lifted. Online-based support groups have the ability to reach more people and can help individuals including those who are isolated or homebound find connection and kinship.
“This has opened up a new world,” Dr. Jacob said. “We have people in their 80s and 90s learning how to join a Zoom group who barely knew how to do an email prior. Virtual services can be so beneficial for people who are unable to meet face-to-face due to other circumstances.”
Bereavement services like The Jewish Board’s can be a great way for people to come together in solidarity and work through their grief together, especially during this time. While support sessions can be valuable, it’s important to recognize that everyone grieves differently and what might work for one person may not be the best option for another. Grief is a natural and necessary process to experience when facing loss or trauma. If you or someone you know is grieving, remember you are not alone. Do not be afraid to reach out for support and help to ensure your emotional and physical needs are addressed. If you find yourself in a crisis and need immediate support, text HOME to 741741 to connect with a counselor.
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