In 2020, like so many people, I suffered a bereavement during the coronavirus pandemic. We had to face difficult decisions as a family around shielding and visiting, trying to get the balance right between seeing and supporting my mum in her final weeks, seeing and supporting my dad too, and looking after our mental health and our children’s, whilst also working and homeschooling. It was a constant battle of guilt for being in one place and not the other, and for being anywhere other than home at all.

Then Mum died, just a month after her own mum had died. We were fortunate that Mum died on 4th July, the day that restrictions lifted significantly, allowing us to socialise and get some of the social support we needed (I remember that first – still technically illegal – hug vividly). We were able to have 20 people at her funeral, which felt entirely different to my Grandma’s 10 just a month previous – and was a whole lot easier to plan and cater for than the big event we would have otherwise had!

One of the GPs explained to me that if you can talk openly and honestly and prepare well for a death before it happens, bereavement will be a lot easier. On the whole, this has been true for me. Bereavement has been ok; we talked about it a lot beforehand so I knew we were doing everything Mum wanted, most of the paperwork stuff had been sorted and was straightforward, and I am surrounded by loving friends and family and colleagues. That GP’s comment stayed with me and reassured me if ever I felt like I was coping “too well.”

But bereavement during the pandemic was different than in “normal” times. People might not have been able to do final goodbyes in person; didn’t have the opportunity to attend a normal funeral; couldn’t have the hugs they needed from friends; didn’t get to go for a big crazy night out and cry on their friends; didn’t get to splurge on a holiday to physically get away from it all. All the normal things we do to deal with difficult emotions like grief, stress, anger were taken away from us, TV binges and online shopping taking their place.

hope, flower, grief

People often talk about the first year of bereavement being the hardest – the first Christmas, first birthday – but during the pandemic those occasions were so abnormal that we didn’t feel them in the same way. The empty seat at Christmas dinner was less obvious when you hadn’t had to get out all the camping chairs to fit all the cousins around the table. Not having them there as the life and soul of the party was less noticeable when there were no parties to go to. Not being able to visit or see them didn’t feel so strange when you couldn’t see anyone.

So, where you may have made an effort to reach out to bereaved ones facing first birthdays and Christmases alone, now it’s the second (or even third) ones that might be the hardest and when your friendly, comforting messages of support are most needed. Especially since the bereaved person may be feeling like they “should” be moving on now that a full year has passed.

Is there anyone you could reach out to this Christmas-time who may be finding things unexpectedly difficult? If you have been through a bereavement and would like some support coming out the other side and starting to adjust to your new life without that person, please get in touch. Please note, I am not a trained counsellor but am able to refer you on to counsellors if I feel that that is what you need.

This was originally posted on the Volunteering in Health blog in 2021.