Pandemic restrictions create barriers for grieving families, experts say

An empty hospital bed. The Canadian Press Images/Bayne Stanley

While the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in the deaths of hundreds of Manitobans, it has also robbed their loved ones of the ability to grieve collectively.

Strict pandemic restrictions across the province have severely limited gathering sizes over the past number of months, which means many Manitobans aren’t able to gather to mourn the passing of a friend or family member.

Andrea Warnick, a registered psychotherapist and member of the Canadian Grief Alliance, told 680 CJOB that the limitations caused by the coronavirus have put a lot of roadblocks in the way of people’s grief.

“As humans, we have a need to be together and connect with other humans when the going gets tough — and, arguably, when somebody dies in your life is when the going gets as tough as it gets,” said Warnick.

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“There’s big barriers to doing that right now and it’s complicating people’s grief process.”

Warnick said while grief is usually thought of in connection to death and illness, there are other elements that have made living through COVID-19 a challenge for many Manitobans.

“This has been such a different experience for so many people,” she said.

“It’s not just grief related to death and illness — it’s job loss, it’s financial security, there’s the graduations that didn’t happen.”

“I’m glad that people are talking about this more — it seems to be more on people’s radars that we need to figure out ways to show up for each other despite the physical limitations right now.”

Fred Nelson, a Winnipeg palliative care social worker, said it’s not simply a matter of ‘getting over’ grief that has made things so difficult in this unprecedented time.

“How we go through this is a very individual process, but it’s dependent on so many things — not only how we cope with life in general, but in our own communities, what kind of supports we have.

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It’s a matter of really understanding and finding some meaning in what you’re going through … and having supportive people around you that will not tell you how you should be doing this, but help to comfort you and support you,” he said.

“This is compounded by the difficulties of our ability to be physically connected with one another.”

Nelson — who is involved with the Canadian Virtual Hospice organization —  said people need to be vigilant when it comes to finding creative ways to connect with each other when doing so physically isn’t an option.

Click to play video: 'Dealing with grief over the holidays'
Dealing with grief over the holidays

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