No Contact Grief
“Life is a contact sport.” Ken Kragen, who produced “We Are the World” in 1985, organized the “Hands Across America” movement in 1986 and managed stars such as Kenny Rogers and Lionel Richie, made this phrase famous in his 1994 book, titled the same. Life is a Contact Sport describes ten career strategies for success, such as goal setting and authentic connections with others.
Ken Kragen is a self-subscribed “people person,” recommending lots of contacts and connections to maximize career and life success. I wonder what he thinks of today’s self-isolation and work from home strategies during the Coronavirus pandemic?
So many social norms are different. I know I’m struggling with the “correct” way to greet people in the grocery store, limit contact with my friends and neighbors, and continue to volunteer at our local food pantry.
Social norms are important. It is difficult to suddenly have to change the “way things are done.” But what about grief? How is it changing in the current environment?
Covid 19 is claiming lives, 88,000 so far in the United States. Many are grieving having lost loved ones and the pain of them dying alone, not even being near them to say goodbye.
Every day in the US, 7,708 people die from all sorts of causes, per the Center for Disease Control. Each of them leaves family members to grieve. Which in the world before this pandemic, was difficult, for sure, but most people at least understood social norms. Comforting connections such as gatherings, hugs and handshakes at a wake, church or funeral home services, eulogies, burials, funeral lunches, gatherings of friends and relatives at home. Followed by cards and calls and offers of lunch and just sitting and listening. Norms that are expected. Contacts that help us heal.
But not now. These grief traditions are not available. So, what can we do when someone we love has lost a loved one? St. Louis NPR radio has had several interesting discussions on grief during the pandemic.
In summary, people are missing the ability to be together with the traditions that help people’s pain. Such as wakes, where viewing the body or seeing the urn makes the death real. Where stories of the deceased can be shared and hugs exchanged. The singing of Amazing Grace and the throwing of dirt onto a coffin marks the end. Those simple acts can be healing. One NPR guest talked about Ireland, where the tradition is to gather at the deceased family’s home after services and boisterously toast the deceased with a story from each guest. She shared a Muslim tradition of the family washing the body, one that now can’t be performed in our current Coronavirus world.
Another guest stressed that faith is imperative now – faith in whatever form that takes for you – that your loved one is in a better place and you will get through the grief with the help of your faith.
One told of a person that hated Facebook and all this social media stuff. When their loved ones’ virtual services were streamed on Facebook live, though, it was very comforting to see all the people watching, offering support and love. The loving posts of memories meant so much. And there were family who could not travel, now able to participate. Maybe social media isn’t so bad after all?
So, how do you help those grieving keep that faith?
Virtual services can take creative twists. Send out a favorite recipe and have everyone make the dish and share as the virtual service is conducted. Have someone close eulogize the deceased online, have each person share a favorite memory, show favorite books, quilts, travel videos, etc. Processions past the deceased home or place of business allows mourners to show their respects. Help them plan a service for later, perhaps at the one-year death anniversary, when hopefully the pandemic is past us, that can celebrate the loved one’s life.
We can still connect. Not physically, but certainly in lots of other ways. To help provide support, we can still just pick up that phone and call. If we can’t get to the store for a card, a handwritten letter is a joy to get and to give. Respond to posts with more than a “like.” Share your feelings and allow space for those grieving to, too.
Let’s all try ways we can let the person grieving know we care. From that socially acceptable distance. Maybe not contact as Ken Kragen would imagine, but we are in a new world, and I trust we can find real ways to connect and show we care. We are all in this together, so I challenge each of you to be creative in ways to help those grieving.
Heartlinks Grief Center provides grief support to all ages, regardless of ability to pay. If you are grieving or know someone who could use assistance on their grief journey, please contact Heartlinks Grief Center at 618-277-1800 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Profits from the sale of We Lost Her and Heartbroken are donated to help support Heartlinks Grief Center.
We Lost Her, available at this link on Amazon.com
Heartbroken, available at this link on Amazon.com
Heartlinks Grief Center volunteer and Family Hospice board member
“We Grow Stronger Together”