The impact of the Covid-19 Pandemic on bereaved people

By Ann Chalmers, Chief Executive, Child Bereavement UK

The ripple effect of the pandemic is huge and those supporting bereaved families are anticipating that their services will be needed not just now, but far into the future as the nation copes with the aftermath. 

The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic has been significant for everyone, as communities face an event of great magnitude that feels outside our control.  Isolation of one sort or another has become part of life for everyone, as we have locked down and socially distanced to protect both the NHS and one another.  

For bereaved people, this period has been particularly difficult. Grief is, for many, a lonely and isolating experience, but the Covid-19 pandemic has brought additional isolation.  We know from the families we support that structure, being active, and having access to friends, family and community are all important factors in rebuilding lives following bereavement.  Yet lockdown, and the restrictions imposed due to the pandemic, have meant that these have been less available.

There will be many bereaved people who were unable to be with a relative when they were ill or when they were dying, who were unable to have the kind of funeral they wanted, or who were unable to attend a funeral due to restrictions.  Many will have felt lonelier than usual as they may have been required to isolate following the death, meaning the physical support of family and friends, who usually rally around at such a time, has just not been there.

Bereaved people may also be struggling with a new ‘hierarchy of grief’ - a sense that people are prioritising Covid-related bereavements, which naturally preoccupy us at the moment. Those who are bereaved for other reasons may feel their grief seems somehow less valid and are reluctant to access support, perhaps feeling that they might be putting pressure on over-subscribed support systems. Equally, those bereaved through Covid-19 may feel the uniqueness of their loss is not appreciated in the vast number of Covid deaths.

Families who were bereaved prior to the pandemic have been dealing with increased worries and concerns; it is not uncommon for a child whose parent has died to experience heightened anxiety about their surviving parent becoming ill due to the virus, or for a widowed parent to be overwhelmed by an increased feeling of responsibility for their grieving children with the additional burden of financial, practical and emotional concerns amid anxieties about contracting the virus themselves.  

It is clear that all these factors may result in some complex and prolonged responses to grief. The ripple effect of the pandemic is huge and those supporting bereaved families are anticipating that their services will be needed not just now, but far into the future as the nation copes with the aftermath.