Isolation and lockdown due to COVID have changed how people experience grief and handle bereavement. Social distancing makes it extremely difficult to offer much-needed comfort to friends and family who have lost a loved one.

The inability to offer physical support in the form of a hug or a visit can cause an immense amount of distress to both the person in mourning and those wanting to provide comfort. In light of this, we need to develop alternative ways of communication that will allow us to show support to our loved ones. Fortunately, we live in a technological age which makes this much easier than it would have been 30 years ago.

As well as empowering families with many different options to assist them in arranging a funeral, the Sonja Smith Elite Funeral Group also offers helpful advice to people through our regular blogs which focus on many different aspects of dealing with death and grief. We recommend using several communication methods to support loved ones in their time of need and offers some suggestions below.

Social Media

In our previous blog post about Funeral Etiquette, we raised the question How do I sympathise on social media?

Please be mindful that some family members and close friends might not have been informed yet. Don’t rush to post your farewell message. Do follow the family’s lead. Keep the ‘miss you’ messages to a minimum. Do share memories in private messages. Don’t constantly tag the deceased. Don’t ‘showboat’. Do keep your questions offline. Do know your place. Don’t share anything too personal. Don’t appropriate an image of the deceased. Read more: A guide to Facebook etiquette after someone has died.

Pick Up The Phone

Although social media platforms may be second nature to most of us, not everyone is good with technology. In cases such as this, a simple phone call may be the best way to show your support. Some people can make it rather challenging to make contact with them during their grief, especially in those first shock-fuelled days. It is still worth continuing to try and make contact now and then for them to know that care and support are waiting once they are ready. You can also leave a voice message of support and ask them to contact you if and when they feel ready.

Send An Email

If you continue to battle to reach someone who is grieving during lockdown, or you aren’t comfortable talking about death, perhaps consider sending them a personal email. This allows you to express your support in a thoughtful manner and reduces the risk of saying something which may, unintentionally, further upset the bereaved. Your email will be waiting until the bereaved feels ready.

Establish A WhatsApp Group

Not everyone enjoys speaking on the phone, so WhatsApp Groups are great for creating communication channels with a feeling of community. They also allow the bereaved to participate in as much or as little conversation as they want to, depending on their emotions at the time. It does offer the option of keeping in regular contact with a group of family or friends who love and care for them.

Start Regular Video Calls

Depending on your relationship with the bereaved, you may find that video calls are more engaging. Zoom, HouseParty, Google Hangouts/Meet, Microsoft Teams and even Facebook or WhatsApp video calling software platforms have enabled millions of people worldwide to maintain contact with each other – no matter the distance. Schedule a regular video chat date; you can even both do it over coffee!

Use A Courier Service

Courier services have grown tremendously during the lockdown. These services allow you to show your care and support by putting together a care hamper to be delivered or by ordering groceries or frozen meals online for the bereaved. This is especially useful when they don’t feel up to making a meal.

Whatever channel of communication you choose, it is necessary to reach out and stay in touch. You may need to try a couple of different methods to see which one appeals to the bereaved most.

Non-Verbal Signals

Once you have established a desirable method of remote communication, you will need to be able to interpret non-verbal signs without taking offence. This takes some practice as we are so used to interacting face-to-face. It is a challenge to interpret the emotions and intentions behind a voice over the phone or via an email.

Be Genuine

Be aware of offering common platitudes to a person who is grieving. Put yourself in their shoes. You wouldn’t want someone to tell you that everything is okay, because the truth is that everything is really not okay. Let them know that you understand this is a difficult time for them. Some people may withdraw, while others will be emotional and vocal. Whatever their response, remember to listen more than you talk. Also, resist the urge to give them advice as it may just build resentment. However, if they ask for your opinion, only then offer it.

Use Humour

If you have established a comfortable relationship with the bereaved, a bit of tasteful humour – at the right time – always lightens the emotional burden for a time. Use funny examples of everyday life to try and make them laugh.

Listen, Listen, Listen

Although we mentioned this earlier in the article, listening is a skill that many people lack, yet is vital for the bereaved. Allow them to express themselves without judgement or criticism. Do not offer advice unless they specifically ask you for it. Remember that this is about helping the person who is in mourning, not working on your counselling skills. There are professionals for that.

Make a point of asking the bereaved how they feel and then keep quiet. Again, allow them time to talk. Listen carefully to what they say so that you can pick up important cues on what to ask next. This skill will allow you to keep track of their emotional healing. If you feel that they are sinking deeper into a depression, you will then be in a position to suggest professional counselling on account of what you have witnessed.

Finally, try not to take it personally if the bereaved does not seem interested in making contact initially. It’s important just to let them know that you are there when they are ready. Remember that staying in touch with everyone may add to their current stress levels, and depending on their personality type, they may find it quite draining to be constantly communicating. Know when to give them space and when to stay in touch.

Lockdown and isolation may present some challenges in providing emotional support, but with a bit of thought and ingenuity, they can be overcome relatively easily.