When Jane Powers’ mother passed away in June, they had to host her shiva— a Jewish period of mourning—online. Under normal circumstances, it would have been a very social, in-person experience; and under normal circumstances, Jane would’ve spent the week surrounded by friends and family from her community. But instead everything happened virtually and Jane, an extrovert, was forced to share her grief virtually. She didn’t describe the experience as terrible, just different because how does one grieve online and especially during COVID?
Grief is one of those things that's hard to talk about even under normal circumstances, but in the time of COVID it's nearly impossible to even make sense of. Fortunately for Jane, her family came up from New Jersey and she was overseeing a full house while she grieved— for many others for whom traveling isn’t an option for one reason or another grieving during COVID can be ripe with contrition, blame and isolation.
Hospicare and Palliative Services, a hospice on East King Road -- is working to provide a map through grief in this period for people looking for ways to process their grief and learn new techniques for coping. Already, they say, many people are actually grieving the loss of freedom, social connections and autonomy, the loss of a loved one during these months may only exacerbate those concerns, said Sara Worden, Assistant Director of Community Engagement.
“We’ve been navigating how to be of service to the community and while brainstorming about what kind of issues people were experiencing now in relation to the pandemic. We’re all having to process the pandemic, plus everything else that’s going on,” said Worden. “The webinar series is a way for us to offer information about what people might be experiencing and also tools and resources for navigating that experience because a lot of our regular coping techniques are not available to us in the way that we’re used to.”
HPS hosted its first hour-long grief webinar led by Dr. Laura Ward LMFT Ct on Aug. 25, 20 people were in attendance. Worden said questions ranged from personal questions about mourning to more practical questions about how to organize or attend family gatherings. There are a lot of unexpected changes to the way we ritualize, and many of them we’ve taken for granted, Worden said.
“One thing Laura did during the webinar was she asked us to reconceptualize the idea of a support network, even though it might look a little different from what we might want or expect; and to try creating their own personal ritual. Even if we can’t attend a larger funeral there are things that can be done online with other people,” said Ward. She said Ward gave an example of how lighting a candle each night can give space to the quiet contemplation that we might need over a longer period of time rather than hashing through all of the emotions that usually come up during a funeral, per se.
“Not only did we expand the definition of grief for the purposes of the pandemic, but we also addressed what it's like to lose a loved one whether or not it's from the pandemic. And all of that is very isolating; travel is limited; gathering in large groups is limited, so we’re having to create new rituals in order to honor our loved ones.”
Worden also said that the webinar also presented some unforeseen advantages. Through the online format people were able to be as visible and heard as they felt comfortable with. She said that not everyone asked a question during the hour.
“There’s a lot to be said about having our support groups in person but when it comes to processing emotion and sensitive topics people don’t always feel comfortable doing that in public. So, the webinar format works well for facilitating a comfortability for people who otherwise might be more shy or have trepidation about going to a public format where they might have these hard or strong emotions come up...some people have a tendency to reach out for support and others tend to isolate, that’s just the nature of grief, it’s different for everyone.”
No journey through grief is right or wrong, said Worden, but it’s about identifying patterns and needs in order to reach the place of healing that we all require. HSP will offer another grief seminar on Sept. 22 from 12 a.m. to 1 p.m. Spots can be reserved email@example.com or call 607-272-0212 for more details or to register. The Zoom link will be emailed to you upon registration. Registration is required.
Jane Powers said although she didn’t attend the first webinar, she has every intention of attending the next one. “If I had been alone it would’ve been awful. The same goes for if my father had stayed in his independent-living facility in New Jersey, I mean he had been married to my mother for 70 years…I mean, I definitely have a lot of support in my life right now, but speaking to a professional grief counselor, I definitely should get into that.”