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Staying connected from a distance

Death does not observe social distancing. In this time of pandemic, how do we offer comfort to friends and family who are grieving the loss of someone they love? How do we, who have lost a loved one, honor and remember the deceased without a traditional funeral, visitation or burial? We need to find new ways to give and receive support, kindness, understanding and compassion since the coronavirus has upended our usual methods of connecting to each other. The Schorman Center, A Place for Healing Grief and Loss, has some suggestions to relieve the sense of helplessness we may feel under the current circumstances.

Usually, we offer condolences by visiting, offering food or making a donation in memory of the deceased. We can continue to do these things in different and thoughtful ways. Person-to-person conversations may still happen through “driveway” or “drive up” visits: stay in your car but speak face-to-face with friends and family from at least six feet away. Virtual visits have become popular on internet platforms like Zoom and Google Hangout. Together, a large group can still share a meal and memories, being physically distant yet connected online. Group members may join from across the country and even the world, providing an opportunity for togetherness that might not happen in “real” time. What is important is that we create the space for ourselves and others to process grief. Although unexpected and perhaps a bit strange at first, virtual gatherings offer a healthy outlet for feelings of sadness and loss that we cannot now share in person.

If virtual visiting is not for you, mail a good old-fashioned handwritten card or letter, being sure to include your own special memories of the deceased. Write a message that says, “this is your invitation to lunch once we can meet face to face.” Try sending a packet of seeds to be planted in memory of the loved one. When the plants begin to grow, they will serve as a beautiful reminder of the deceased. Stay in touch every so often, because grief does not end in a week or a month. Send short notes, make a phone call or send a text, just to let a grieving friend or family member know you’re thinking of them and ready to listen.

Cook a meal or bake something special and leave it on your friend’s porch. Send a gift card from a market or a restaurant or have a local restaurant make and deliver a meal to those who are grieving. Your kindness, although not offered in person, will ensure that while a grieving people may be distant, they are not alone.

Many of us have recently lost loved ones in nursing homes or hospitals where we have been unable to visit and say a last goodbye. Sadly, following the death of a loved one, we are also unable to observe the comforting rituals of funerals, visitation and memorial services in customary large social gatherings. The lack of physical contact and familiar social support can compound grief and make it difficult to find an outlet for feelings of sorrow, anxiety and helplessness. In the face of this, we need to create our own rituals to remember and honor the deceased.

Some people have decided on a two-part ceremony, allowing a small funeral and burial now and planning a large memorial service later, once physical distancing restrictions have been lifted. Others have live-streamed funeral services or have recorded and posted them online for widespread viewing at any time. Establishing a website memorial is a wonderful way to allow friends and family members to express condolences and share memories in a conversational way. At home, design a memorial altar or shrine to the loved one. Incorporate items that are reminders of the person who has died. Light a candle, say a prayer, meditate. Write a letter, perhaps a goodbye letter, to the deceased and place it at the altar. Begin a journal of thoughts, feelings and memories. Plant a tree that will become a living tribute to the person who has died.

The Schorman Center continues to offer grief counseling to all Warren County community members despite the pandemic. Currently, counseling is done either online or by phone. Call the Schorman Center Monday through Friday, 8:30 AM – 4:30 PM, at 723-8060, for help.

“If ever there is a tomorrow when we’re not together… there is something you must always remember. You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think. But the most important thing is, even if we’re apart… I’ll always be with you.” Christopher Robin to Winnie the Pooh, A.A. Milne

Jodi Bevevino, is bereavement coordinator and compliance officer at The Schorman Center, an outreach of Hospice of Warren County.

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