Let’s Talk About Grief
“To weep is to make less the depth of grief.”
(Henry VI, Part III Act II, Scene I)
The numbers are breathtaking: over 12,000 Canadians have died of covid-19. Between covid and non-covid deaths, over 1.2 million Canadians are in some stage of grief. With the holidays just over the horizon, and the numbers showing no signs of ebbing, this time of year, already fraught for so many, is going to pose new and difficult challenges for so many of us. And according to Naheed Dosani, a palliative care physician and health justice activist, we’re not talking about grief enough.
In a recent interview with CBC News, Mr. Dosani shared his experience with “grief circles,” a gathering of colleagues where tears laughter and memories are shared in honour of the people for whom they have cared. Grief circles have moved online, but the number of participants are increasing, partly, he says, “because there’s more grief than ever before.” Shelly Cory, executive director of Canadian Virtual Hospice, sees this as “the hidden crisis of the whole pandemic.” Cory is a co-founder of the Canadian Grief Alliance, a coalition of leaders in bereavement and grief:
“Canadians have been robbed of goodbyes with dying friends and family or people they care about and forced to grieve in isolation without funeral rites. They and those working on the front lines of health care are at heightened risk for prolonged, complicated grief marked by depression, and the risk of suicide. Existing grief services are fragmented, under-funded and insufficient. Left unaddressed, significant long-term social, health and economic impacts will result.”
While Ms. Cory and Mr. Dosani are urging the federal government to implement a National Grief Strategy, the stark numbers reveal a tragic truth: we’re not talking to each other enough about grief. While lockdowns and safety measures may be preventing us from being present with a loved one at the end, grief and grieving is itself in a kind of quarantine. Unable to hug her mother and father-in-law after the death of her husband, Heather Ramey recently told Maclean’s magazine, “I want something more for my children other than this.”
Complicated grief, more than just prolonged sadness, can have devastating effects including PTSD, depression and suicidal thoughts. Pandemic related isolation and loneliness, and in particular around the holidays, can make matters more pronounced, or even worse.
It’s hard, it’s sad, but grief is still a process like any other. While grief is unique to each of us, the Centre of Addiction and Mental Health (“CAMH”) reminds us of a few suggestions to get started:
• Get clarity by naming the struggle and identify five things that have been hard, then tackle
them one at a time.
• One day at a time. If we only focus on smaller issues in a given day, we break things up
into smaller, more manageable pieces.
• Self-care, self-care, self-care. While grief can often lead us to take care of others, check in
with yourself every day. Take some time for yourself and be compassionate with yourself.
• Talk to someone. As the saying goes, “a burden shared, is a burden halved.”
It’s this final point that remains so challenging during a lockdown.
While there are several online resources and articles from local hospitals to the Harvard Business Review, it’s critical to remember to reach out and show your support, or ask for support, during a difficult time. Be it a front-line health worker like Mr. Dosani, or a colleague from years ago, or a friend you haven’t heard from in a few days: We need to talk each other more.
Ian Hull and Daniel Enright