“A terrible feeling of isolation, of disconnection. A terrible shock.“A little over a year after the death of her father, Renata still has emotion on the edge of her lips and not really the words to describe the extent of the pain she still feels.
Bereaved families have had to endure increased suffering during the pandemic, for a series of reasons, which range from the sanitary conditions which have upset the habits in terms of accompanying the sick and dying, to modifications concerning funerals, passing by the media place occupied by the terrible and daily count of deaths due to Covid.
Each of his families and, individually, each of their members, reacted in their own way, trying to overcome the ordeal as best they could. We wanted to hear their feelings and understand how they came to manage their grief.
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“I have lived in New Zealand for years, raising my children there, who are settled on the mainland, as well as my grandchildren. But I never cut ties with the rest of my family. I come back regularly, especially to see my parents and my brother and sister.“
“Except last year when my dad had an accident, I couldn’t jump on a plane and be there. There were simply no flights to Europe“.
So, it was from her home that she took the news, somehow, juggling the jet lag (22 hours overtime). Chaining Skype and phone calls, collecting the information, more and more alarming. To learn that his father was not going to survive. “Everything collapsed. I had a hard time realizing. I was so far away, alone, and helpless!“
I haven’t seen her again
Impotence, Sabine also felt it, although close to her mother, confined in a nursing home from the start of the pandemic. “Suddenly, we could no longer go to see Mum, who was confined to her room and could no longer see anyone, even in the nursing home. She was already not doing very well, she was losing her footing.“
“But the fact of no longer being able to see her family (large: we are 5 children, and many grandchildren), that was a blow to her. And then there was the announcement of her respiratory problems, her hospitalization, and the diagnosis of Covid, in April 2020. I have not seen her again, except by Skype, thanks to the nurses.“
I have “chosen “not to see her again
Eric also did not see his mother, who also died from the coronavirus. By choice: “I let my sisters go see her in the hospital. They allowed one last visit. It was complicated. And I also wanted to keep a beautiful image of her. We had recently traveled to Spain and the south of France, and together we celebrated her 86th birthday.“.
This Brussels resident who has been living in Dubai for thirty years regularly returned to Belgium to see his mother, an energetic woman, who had never hesitated to visit him in the Emirates..
“I was still present in Belgium when it happened, in March 2020. My mother saw herself as more independent than she really was, but she was a voluntary woman and, with some help (home nurse, provision of meal), she was doing very well.“
Mourning impossible to do?
The pandemic prevented our three witnesses from seeing their parents again, on the verge of death. Mourning impossible to do? “I wouldn’t say that“, answers Emmanuelle Zech, doctor of psychology, and professor at the faculty of psychology and educational sciences at UCLouvain.”Grieving reactions are idiosyncratic, fundamentally individual and personal.“
►►► To read also: The funeral at the time of the Coronavirus: “A total horror”
They are also a reflection of the attachment we have for the person, the relationships we have with them: “We do not necessarily have the same relationship with our father or our mother, no more than our brothers and sisters.“.
“And I am not one of those who predict that ‘necessarily’, bereavement in times of Covid will have more serious and longer-term consequences. We must keep a critical eye“, insists this specialist in mourning.
A study on the evolution of bereavement profiles
A critical eye that will be nourished by a study on mourning in this period of pandemic: in three parts, 6 months each time, conducted in French-speaking Belgium, Spain, Canada, Switzerland. “We can then analyze the responses of the bereaved and draw conclusions..”
“Nevertheless, she specifies, we can already identify aspects specific to this Covid period that can have an impact on the mourning process: the fact that the deaths are due to a contagious disease, which generates feelings of insecurity and helplessness among caregivers, but also a feeling of responsibility, even of guilt, in all.“
And then there is this media coverage of the number of deaths, which generates anxiety in relation to our own finitude, which is usually a little buried, and which causes questions about our own existence. Questions that we try to answer either by assimilating the information and adapting our behavior, or by denying the information and acting as if all this was not so serious, or not concerning.
And finally, she notes, in this process of mourning in times of Covid, there are significant changes in the support of dying people, and funeral rites, due to health measures.
“I feel guiltythis Sabine. A feeling that never leaves me: I did not go to see Mom when the hospital told us it was the end, because we were at the start of the first wave and I was scared. To be contaminated, and to contaminate in return.“During his hospitalization, family councils multiplied. Everyone also felt helpless.
“I hesitated to pay him this last visit. I said no. My goddaughter went there on behalf of all of us. Fortunately. But I regret not having done so. I, who felt I was one of the closest to mom, was not there to hold her hand.”
Out of the question for her to go alone
Amandine, Sabine’s goddaughter, said to herself that it was out of the question for her grandmother to go alone, she to whom she was very attached, and who had taken such care of her during her childhood. – “She’s the one who made me want to travel, she’s the one who showed me Cousteau’s films, and I became a marine biologist …“.
“We talked about it with my sister: I live with my mother and my stepfather, who is at risk. It wasn’t easy. But at the hospital I was properly equipped and I was able to talk to her, without her being able to answer me, because she was already in a coma. She died the next day.“
“Bereaved people implement coping strategies, pursuit of Emmanuelle Zech. They are varied: confrontational or avoidance, focused on emotions, problem solving or the search for meaning. But we must not forget that mourning is a process, which is experienced over time, and which evolves.“
Eric, today, says he is sure he made the right choice not to go to see his mother in the hospital. “I have had a very close relationship with her over the past few years. I didn’t feel the absolute need to go see her. Maybe it was different for my sisters.“
But if there is one feeling that inhabits him today, it is anger. “Anger at the way this crisis was handled in Europe! What a catastrophe ! The elderly in nursing homes and hospitals have suffered terribly. And the nursing staff, so devoted, so helpless, too! What a scandal, what inhumanity …“
“So, I know, barrier gestures, all that. But that doesn’t justify the way we treated people. I haven’t seen this in Dubai. And I’m not even talking about all the other failures: from masks to vaccination …“
Need to listen
“The bereaved, pursuit of Emmanuelle Zech, above all need to be listened to, respected in their way of going through their bereavement. However intense the reactions to bereavement may appear, they will not, however, last.“
So do rites have a role to play in the adjustment process? “Yes, if they are suitable for people. We realize that traditional rites are less used nowadays (and even outside the Covid period: dressing in black, sending letters of condolence) to lead to more personalized rites.“
Streaming at the funeral may have enabled people who could not attend to participate anyway: “And this is important“.
“Fortunately there was that, acquiesce Renata. I was able to attend the ceremony, and even speak, it was a huge comfort for me, even if it was strange and offbeat, because it was the middle of the night in New Zealand“.
Family and friends gathered for the funeral, this was not possible during the pandemic. “There were a dozen of us at our mother’s funeral, resumes Sabine. His children, their spouses, his grandchildren, but not their spouses. We couldn’t touch the coffin, or even approach it. And then everyone broke up. We went to his grave, in dispersed order for the anniversary of his death, in early May. But we want to meet together, as soon as it is authorized and we are all available, probably this summer. Mom will be at the center of our family reunion.”
We left with the ballot box in the Netherlands
Eric also talks about the funeral: “We were able to exceed the gauge for the ceremony a little bit, because how could we do to reject people who had been close? My mother wanted to be cremated, and her ashes to be buried alongside my father, in a small wood in the Netherlands. We left with the urn, with one of my sisters and my brother-in-law. We were able to pass. And there, a gravedigger was waiting for us. He buried the urn and it was over, impossible even to see the rest of the family. Strange, and unsettling. But we did what she wanted“.
“Implementing personalized rites that make sense and help us when we are in mourning is important, concludes Emmanuelle Zech. Light a candle, prepare a meal that the deceased loved, play his favorite music …“
“It is sometimes forgotten, but the adaptive capacities of human beings are gigantic.“