Grieving During a Pandemic

I was only five days old when my maternal grandfather died, the result of a heart attack he suffered while shoveling snow. During that era, women were presumed to be compromised by normal childbirth for at least a week and a half. Consequently, my father took my brothers to the funeral and left my mother home to take care of me. At that time, he was following standard medical advice. Today, I feel that was a very poor decision, likely making it more difficult for my mother to mourn her own father’s death.
Now that we have COVID getting in the way of standard mourning rituals, my mother’s missing of her father’s funeral seems like a trifle. Services and/or visiting hours, when held, present a major decision. Do you want to physically be there to support the bereaved? Is it more important to ensure you don’t risk exposing them (or yourself) to any possible contagion?
One thing I take comfort from, is a feeling that funerals are for the living, that we do not fail our deceased loved one by not attending. (We may, however, fail our surviving loved ones.). My maternal grandmother suffered a long illness, and when one of my mother’s sisters visited from out of state, she announced “I will not be here for the funeral. I feel it is more important for me to see her now.” Thank you, Aunt Mary; I have held that thought through all these intervening years.
My pandemic life has not managed to proceed without some people dying, though none so far were extremely close to me. Some of the things I have done, in no particular order, include posting to the person’s funeral home memorial page, sending a card—yes, an actual paper card, sending flowers, providing help while the person was failing…I have talked to random people about each death, though that is a far cry from joining the crowd and sharing memories. Were I the person who had just lost a very close loved one, I would certainly prefer those somewhat disjointed responses to the non-response that results when someone declares “I just don’t know what to do.”
When we no longer have to fear this for-now new disease, my hope is we will carry some of these lessons into our future. After all, even in the best of times, it will not always be possible to pay our respects and find out comfort in the most traditional ways. Dealing with others’ deaths, as we deal with our own lives, mostly means we just have to muddle through.

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