A few days before the world shut down due to the pandemic, I was at the hospital for a routine doctor’s appointment. While I waited for my doctor to see me, a friend posted on Facebook that her father had been taken by ambulance to the same hospital and was being admitted. She had just arrived, but her phone was about out of battery. I happened to have an extra charger in my purse from traveling recently and offered to take it to her after my appointment.
It was one of the last “normal" things I would do. And that friend’s father? He never came home from the hospital. In fact, he died just two days before my father-in-law died in early May. We are two friends forever linked by a cell phone charger and loss during a pandemic.
Many people are talking about the passing of one year since the beginning of the pandemic. Some have even written about the legacy of grief from those who lost loved ones to COVID-19. Then, there are also those of us who experienced the death of loved ones to non-COVID-related causes. But, our grief has been compounded by the presence of the pandemic. And, to be honest, we all need an extra charger about now.
So, how can you support a loved one who has experienced a loss during the pandemic and help them recharge? Here are some things our friends and family have done that have helped, and a few I hope someone may do as we reach the one-year anniversary of my father-in-law’s death.
1. Text messages of love and support.
Grief is exhausting. The grieving want to know they are loved and supported, but sometimes they are talked out. Send a text message to let them know you are thinking about them and remembering their loved one who died. Text them a week after their loss, a month after their loss, at random intervals, on holidays, and just whenever you’re thinking about them. They’ll appreciate that small gesture more than you’ll ever fully comprehend.
2. Bring food or order delivery for the family.
When my father-in-law died, it was still fairly early in the pandemic. There was uncertainty about sharing food. And we didn’t gather as a family to plan the funeral or go through photographs (another loss to COVID). But, our friends and family ordered delivery for us or dropped off take-out. One friend brought take-out the evening of the funeral, and we were so grateful. It was an incredibly lonely experience, not being able to gather. But having people send food helped us feel less alone. And even now, almost a year later, every once in a while someone reaches out and offers to send a meal, and it warms our hearts.
3. Talk about their loved one.
With social distancing, many who experienced loss during the pandemic also experienced the loss of the typical grieving rituals. There was no gathering and telling stories. For our family, we were able to have an immediate-family only wake and funeral. Others have gathered over Zoom for funerals. But, the typical sitting around and chatting about the loved one who died, going through old photographs, and just being together, hugging and crying and laughing, has been missing. So, reach out and tell a favorite story about their loved one who died, and ask them to share a story with you.
4. Organize a gift card train.
Erin Van Der Meer wrote in the New York Times that gift cards are the new sympathy card, and this has become even more true during the pandemic. Gift cards to services like GrubHub, Instacart, Target, and Amazon can help with everyday items that a person needs after a loss and relieve some of the financial burdens. Other gift cards can give a much-needed treat during a stressful time. Don’t forget to send something for the kiddos. They need a break and something special right now too. Include a little note to let the family know you’re thinking about them as they reach the anniversary of their loss.
5. Do an act of remembrance for their loved one who died.
As this one-year milestone passes, it’s important to let them know that their loved one is remembered. We always fear that our loved ones will be forgotten, and COVID has made that fear feel more real with the disruption in our grieving rituals. So, do something in memory of their loved one. Practice a random act of kindness. Make a donation in the deceased’s name to their favorite charity. Send a tree or flowers to the family for them to plant in their yard. Have a star named after their loved one. There are so many wonderful things you can do in memory of someone who has died, and it will bring such peace and gratitude to the family to know their loved one has not been forgotten among all of the loss and chaos of the pandemic.
This one-year anniversary will be very tough on the millions of people who have lost loved ones during the pandemic. It’s vital to support the grieving. Bring a charger if that’s what they need. Let them know they are not alone, no matter how much space continues to separate us due to the pandemic.
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