How to cope with bereavement and grief during the coronavirus outbreak

Bereavement, which is a difficult experience under any situation, is taking place under very challenging circumstances during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Both those who experience loss as a consequence to COVID-19, or loss through another cause may experience increased trauma and may be cut off from some of their usual support network.

Very sadly, some families may not have had the opportunity to say goodbye to their loved ones before they died, which can be particularly upsetting. The observance of other practices and traditions which normally occur after someone has died may also be affected. Those who are already struggling with bereavement, or whose relatives or friends die through other causes will also be affected.

Several UK bereavement charities and organisations offer guidance, advice, and support to deal with bereavement during this pandemic, both the practical and psychological aspects.

When you are bereaved you should stay in touch with other people, however because of the virus this needs to be by telephone, video, and online.

Impact on funerals 

In support of Government guidance, London’s Strategic Coordination Group (SCG) has released a set of Funeral Standards to provide clarity and reassurance to families facing the burial or cremation of a loved one during the current pandemic.

It is recognised that in these hugely challenging times it may not be possible to conduct funerals and cremations in the usual way. This situation impacts on Londoners of all and no faith and belief.

The Standards, which were developed by the Faith and Belief Cell of the SCG for Londoners of all faiths, beliefs and none, respond to the need for families to not delay funerals after someone has died whilst being able to shape some aspects of how they say goodbye. They offer a set of criteria to apply in all circumstances wherever public safety and operational capacity allow. 

It is important to stress that the Standards set out below:

  • reflect the advice of the Faith Cell of the Mortality Management Group, on behalf of the Strategic Coordination Group (SCG), as to how to apply Government guidance in London and are specific to London at the point of issue.
  • may evolve on the basis of feedback from the Faith and Belief Cell Advisory Panel and Contact Group

London's Funeral Standards

Funerals should remain as normal as possible for as long as possible in line with social distancing regulations. When this cannot be sustained the following minimum standards should be maintained:

  1. The family’s choice of burial or cremation for their loved one should be respected, in line with the requirements and conditions set out in the Coronavirus Act 2020.
  2. A celebrant (minister) of the family’s choice of faith/belief should always be present if the family wish at the funeral even if there is no congregation at all, recognising that this may not be the individual of their choice.
  3. As far as possible, name and contact details for the family should be given to the celebrant by the funeral director a minimum of one day before the funeral to allow contact with the family.
  4. Attendance at funerals should be limited to those from within the household or close family of the loved one – their partner, children, parents and siblings. This includes deaths which do not arise from Covid-19. Individuals who are from a household that is self-isolating should not attend a funeral gathering if they have any symptoms of any kind, even if these are very mild. Updated guidance issued by government on April 19 details where exceptions can be made to the 'stay at home advice' that is currently in place to allow families and friends to attend funerals and say goodbye to loved ones. This includes those who are self-isolating or who have been defined as extremely clinically vulnerable, should they wish to attend. However, attendance at funerals should be agreed in consultation with the appointed funeral director.
  5. Ceremonial words should be said in line with the family’s choice of faith or belief but these may be truncated from usual funeral rites.
  6. An offer to facilitate livestream via social media should be made. However it is recognised that not all Crematoria /Cemeteries have adequate WiFi/signal to achieve this. Where this is known to be the case (and where it is not), the family may prefer the funeral to be filmed so that it can be shared afterwards.
  7. Faith and belief communities should, within their understanding of what is possible, offer memorial services and subsequent commemorations to bereaved families.
  8. Bereavement support should be offered. This Covid-19 toolkit from Thrive LDN may be helpful in this regard.
  9. When organisations charge fees (funeral directors, celebrants, crematoria, cemeteries etc), they are asked to work together to achieve transparency in what they charge in these circumstances.

Bereavement services and support

You can find bereavement services from your local council website, and there is the Governments step-by-step guide available.

The bereavement care charity Cruse is helping families affected by coronavirus. You can find a broad range of guidance, including easy read fact sheets, on the Cruse website. You can also contact the charity’s free national helpline on 0808 808 1677 or email them at [email protected].

The Childhood Bereavement Network has provided advice and guidance from a number of children and young people’s bereavement organisations. These including supporting a bereaved child or a young person, how to say goodbye when a funeral is not possible due to social distancing restrictions in place, and guidance for families with children and young people around changes to funerals.

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