Using an article ‘Grief, Lockdown and Coronavirus’ from the Financial Times dated 4 June 2020, we talked about changing attitudes to grief, and the necessary changes to funerals and the symbolism around death.
Our conversation was largely based on our many professional experiences of death and grief. In police work, medical settings and in ministry, the use of precise – even blunt – language to convey news of a death was recognised as vital to avoid misunderstanding and false hope. In the face of shocking information, people can only process direct language. Nuance and euphemism leave far too much space for miscommunication.
In the time of a pandemic, the usual rituals that surround a death like saying goodbye in person, a vigil, a visit to view the body , holding a service, shared anecdotes and memorabilia are either impossible or compromised. We acknowledged the importance of symbols like these to initiate grief, but accepted that different symbols might serve the same purpose. Grief that is blocked will emerge in some form at some time in the future. We wondered if there is likely to be a backlog of grief after the pandemic, or if people will have found their own way through what is, after all, a natural process. Perhaps the looming mental health crisis forecast by the press is overblown.
There was some consensus that we are generally remote from death in modern Western life. We might even have an illusion of immortality. Even while half a million people worldwide have died, many of us remain at a distance from any personal impact. However, for workers on the so called NHS front line, they are seeing and dealing with far more death than normal. They are needing to be extraordinarily resilient and we question whether this is sustainable in the long term.