The lockdown measures imposed to prevent the spread of COVID-19 have helped save countless lives but they have also limited people’s ability to gather and grieve those who have died during the crisis.
“When COVID started I became very aware that a lot of people were grieving,” said author and grief counselor Marian Grace Boyd. “It’s not just the loss of a loved one but the loss of a lifestyle, the loss of our normal, the loss of our sense of self. So many losses.”
Those losses are compounded for people who have lost a loved one during the lockdown. In many cases they were unable to visit and comfort the dying person and now are unable to gather with family and friends to mourn the loss and comfort each other in their grief.
“One woman expressed it beautifully that it is almost as if her loss has been lost in the overwhelming emotions of these days,” said Boyd. “That’s really powerful.”
The crisis and the experience of being in lockdown have heightened people’s emotions and have, in some cases, triggered unresolved or residual feelings of grief.
“Their grief and the losses they experienced years ago have resurfaced,” said Boyd. “It might have been a person they would have been close with during this time and they are really missing them.”
Boyd is a retired psychotherapist who has co-written a six-part series of books called, Remember, It’s Okay, that deals with different aspects and experiences of grief and loss.
“I have been doing grief support work basically my whole life,” she said. “Grief follows me wherever I go. I thought I was going to retire and I ended up writing these six books. I have always believed my mission in life is teaching people how to grieve and teaching people how to support grieving people.”
Boyd directed the Griefwalk support group in Guelph for more than eight years.
“It is based out of Lakeside Church and it is a peer-based, grief support program. I retired two years ago so it is under new management now and Elizabeth Lengyel is doing a great job directing that.”
Boyd and others started a Facebook group called Guelph Together for Emotional Health – A Peer-Based Response to COVID 19.
“That has been a remarkable little group where people at a peer-to-peer level have begun to support each other, talk about their struggles and offer resources to each other,” she said.
A number of people had written about losing a loved one and their feelings about having no way to gather like they normally would to properly share and express their grief.
“I approached my little admin group and said, ‘Hey, what if we create a Facebook event that gives people the space to emotionally gather together to support each other knowing that each person is experiencing grief,” she said. “How can we honour that loss? How can we honour that grief?”
They launched a Facebook event page and scheduled the live half-hour event for Thursday, April 30 from 7:30 p.m. to 8 p.m.
“The page is called Remember Together – Honouring Grief During COVID-19,” said Boyd. “It is open to literally anybody. We’ve had people from across Canada contact us. All somebody has to do is show up to that page at 7:30 Thursday night.”
She suggests people visit the page in advance of the event to familiarize themselves with the process.
“That would be a really good idea because some people have never done a Facebook live event,” said Boyd. “In one of the posts I talk about what that is about. I am the only face. It’s not like doing a Zoom where people will be seen. So, I describe that, and people can check out the page in advance and prepare themselves then join us at 7:30.”
It will be much like a funeral or memorial service.
“We suggest that they have a candle because there will be a moment when we light a candle,” said Boyd. “We are going to read a poem together. I will say a few words of gentle introduction.”
There will then be an opportunity for people to write the name of the person or persons they are remembering in the comment section.
“We will read those names together and just reading those names and witnessing together the beauty of a life that was loved and we will remember together that name,” said Boyd. “It brings tears to me to think about doing that.”
She expects the event to be a very powerful and healing experience for people.
“I have been able to witness that hundreds and hundreds of times,” said Boyd. “Grief is part of our everyday life. We have sadly turned it into something that is almost viewed as a disorder we are afraid of. No, no, no, we need to embrace it and we need to learn how to help each other with their grief.”
The experience can also be emotionally liberating for people feeling isolated in this time of crisis.
“I have been able to witness what happens when somebody is able to go into the depth of their grief, when they can find new life again and breathe,” said Boyd. “It is very doable and it is a sacred, intimate journey with people in their darkest places. It is pretty remarkable.”