Social distancing, isolation, and self-quarantine aren’t just phrases that have changed our day-to-day life—they have also changed the way we grieve. Even families who haven’t been affected by the illness or loss of a loved one due to COVID-19 may still experience loss, but the ways in which they are able to process those losses is profoundly different today and may have long-term ramifications.

Unfortunately, even though we’re in the midst of a deadly pandemic, cancer, heart attacks, and other disease states are still occurring. Those families are being impacted by our current reality, and it’s very difficult for them.

For many, missing final moments with a loved one causes the greatest sense of loss. The final hours and days of one’s life can be a very poignant time, giving loved ones a chance to say good-bye and even make amends. Due to the strict isolation procedures in place in most hospitals, many families are forced to forego those final moments. And while technology provides some relief from the isolation, a videoconference good-bye is no substitute for holding a loved one’s hand or giving them one last embrace.

Another significant change some are experiencing now is the inability to grieve as a family. Government officials have asked to limit all gatherings to 10 people or less to stem the spread of COVID-19, which means that burial services must be limited to immediate family, and larger memorial services must be postponed until social distancing measures have lifted.

In addition to the initial pain this lack of closure may cause family and loved ones, experts fear this may contribute to the development of what’s known as prolonged grief. Prolonged grief is a grief state that exceeds 12 months but differs from depression. It is marked by an inability to accept the loss, a sense of disbelief, and persistent longing and sadness for the deceased. Risk factors for prolonged grief are social isolation and sudden, unexplained circumstances surrounding death.

When you combine the inability for loved ones to come together to grieve a loss with people missing out on those crucial final moments, it’s a recipe for a complicated, profound grieving process.

The best way to cope with and combat this difficult transition in life is to talk through the grieving process with a professional.

Whatever you do, know that this time we are forced to grieve in is not ‘normal’ and it’s perfectly ok to reach out for additional help. No one needs to process this alone.

If you or a loved one need help processing grief or loss, UofL Health – Peace Hospital’s Assessment and Referral Center offers no-charge assessments at 502-451-3333 or 800-451-3637.

Or contact the 24-Hour Crisis and Information Center Line at 502-589-4313 or 800-221-0446.

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Taylor Garver

Taylor Garver is a registered art therapist and a licensed professional clinical counselor-supervisor. Taylor obtained her master’s in education in personnel services and expressive therapies from University of Louisville. She has been practicing for more than 10 years and has provided treatment in a variety of settings including traditional private practice, crisis, assessment, substance use disorder and psychiatric residential treatment, detox, and most recently serves as the director of Clinical Services at Peace Hospital. In her free time, Taylor enjoys spending time cooking, gardening, riding bikes with her children, and listening to podcasts.

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