Grief and Loss in the Time of Coronavirus: What Can We Do?
In a recent MinnPost commentary, Lakewood’s president Chris Makowske addressed issues surrounding our current situation and how cemeteries like Lakewood can work with families to help make these difficult transitions a little smoother, even when we have to grieve from a distance.
These are difficult times for Minnesota and our world. As the COVID-19 toll continues to climb, the statistics and stories are hitting closer to home. We worry… that someone we love might be next, and if hospitalization happens—or death strikes—we won’t be able to show up for each other when it’s needed most. It’s an unimaginable situation that goes against human nature and weighs heavily on our hearts.
No one is immune to this feeling, not even those of us who deal with death on a daily basis. Even here at Lakewood, where we have been helping families navigate loss for nearly 150 years, these are unprecedented times. The familiar ways that communities have said goodbye to their loved ones — funerals, memorial services, celebrations of life — aren’t possible right now. So we must adapt and find new ways to honor and mourn those who pass—because deeply grieving loss when it happens is an essential part of the healing process.
At a time when we feel helpless and powerless about so many things, including death, it’s important to focus on what we CAN do.
We can be present, albeit at a smaller scale. If a loved one dies, whether from COVID-19 or not, there are limitations on how families can come together. As of today, state law allows up to 10 people to gather outdoors for a graveside service or the spreading of cremated remains, honoring the 6 ft distance rule. To limit the total attendance at a service, while still allowing loved-ones to watch it, Lakewood is providing complementary recordings of burial services to families. This allows them to share this special moment with loved ones who cannot be in attendance.
We can grieve together in new ways…and old. We can use Zoom to connect with those who want to provide condolences and support… it doesn’t replace a hug, but still provides a way to reminisce, laugh and cry. In the face of all things digital, a handwritten note, no matter how simple, carries a message that is even more personal and meaningful. There are virtual grief meditations, grief support groups, art therapy and more online. Here at Lakewood, we are making some of these offerings available to the community and collecting these resources to share — and of course, we always welcome your suggestions.
We can plan larger gatherings for later. When a life is lost at a time like this, some families opt to keep it simple, choosing cremation and saving the decision of what to do with the urn or ashes for later. If adopting this “cremate and wait” approach, don’t postpone the grieving process. Let your family, community and social networks support you, and begin to envision what kind of meaningful ceremony or celebration you might do down the road. Putting your energy into planning a future gathering can be therapeutic and help keep the conversation and memories alive. Many families are using vehicles like Facebook to keep families and friends apprised of their plans.
We can memorialize the life. Beyond events and gatherings, another way to mark a death and honor a life is through the act of memorialization. This can be as simple as tying a colorful ribbon on Lakewood’s Living Memory Tree, which may be provided at upcoming seasonal events such as Mother’s Day, or establishing a permanent presence at a cemetery, such as a plaque on a wall, a marker in a garden or a traditional headstone. Whether a loved one is cremated or buried, there are many ways to record the details of their life and create a dedicated place where the memories of that individual can live on. When so much of modern life is digital, having beautiful places where we can go to feel physically closer to those who are gone — and to nature — can provide a lovely touchstone for generations to come. Learn more about memorialization options here.
We can have a plan. Losing someone we love or leaving a spouse or child behind is a deep, unspeakable fear. Yet it can actually be helpful, even reassuring, to talk about what will happen after we die. Many cemeteries and advisors are getting calls from people who now feel the impetus to get some arrangements in place. Pre-planning is one of those to-dos that is easy to put off or ignore — yet with uncertainty in the air and our loved ones nearby, this is perhaps a good time to have those conversations and express our wishes about how we’d like to be remembered. If you want to discuss pre-planning options, please reach out to the Lakewood Family Services team at 612-822-2171 or email@example.com. They are available to answer your questions and help with navigating this difficult process.
The truth is, no matter how successful Minnesotans are at flattening the curve, death will have an increasingly visible presence in our community, and our heartache will be great. And at the same time, despite the challenges, we can — and must — come together. To grieve. To console.
If you are struggling with loss, it is important to know you are not alone. Minnesota is rich with professionals and helpers who are here to support you — honoring current health safety guidelines while helping families navigate these uncharted waters. We all take great pride in providing extraordinary compassion and caring, especially during difficult times like this.
Let’s take comfort in the fact that when things are at their worst, human beings are often at their best. Let’s stay safe, be kind, and be here for each other — in this crisis and well beyond.
If you have questions about memorialization or pre-planning options, please reach out to Lakewood at 612-822-2171 or firstname.lastname@example.org and we will connect you with our Family Services team.
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We will also be offering several free virtual workshops and activities throughout shelter-in-place and beyond that center around grief, healing, and memorialization. As part of the Lakewood Experience Series, these events encourage and support personal reflection and creative expression as a way to understand and process your emotions during difficult times.