These are extraordinary times, it’s ok to feel anxious or numb, says Jane Cato, Martlets’ counselling and bereavement services manager.
Watching someone you love struggle with a terminal illness is one of the hardest things anyone has to face. Finding meaning in the face of bereavement can feel like a distant, different world. The death of your partner, parent, sibling, grandparent or close friend is one of the most profoundly tough experiences to live with — the gnawing grief and yearning for your loved one.
Today we find ourselves having to navigate our way through the impact of the coronavirus. We’re living in a world we don’t entirely recognise. There’s the fear of infection plus we’re having to cope with isolation, social distancing and lockdown.
Support to make decisions
One lady I spoke with told me she and her husband, who is terminally ill, were faced with a really difficult decision around his care. Should she care for him at home, so they could be together? Or have him admitted to the hospice where she would not be able to visit during lockdown? She felt frightened and fearful that they would not be able to cope with the medical needs if he stayed at home.
“Jane, that was an impossible choice. I just couldn’t make that kind of decision,” she said.
With the help of our nurses, the GP and some ‘socially distanced’ friends, she was able to reach a decision that both she and her husband felt ok ‘enough’ with. Her husband was cared for at home with the support of our Hospice at Home team, the GP, district nurses and the Martlets phone Hub.
Other people have been talking to me about how they feel overwhelmed and are struggling to cope. Some want to ignore what’s going on and pretend the pandemic isn’t happening; then they start to feel guilty or give themselves a hard time for not managing.
It is really important not place too much pressure on ourselves. Those people who are already dealing with enormously difficult situations like terminal illness or bereavement are now having to live with the impact of Covid-19. They are separated from friends and family, restricted from going out to visit the graveside of their loved one on Easter Sunday and afraid of getting the virus. On top of this they are grappling with unfamiliar technology like Zoom to try and communicate.
Just getting by is OK
As a psychotherapist who has worked with trauma, I think there are a few things that are helpful to know:
- When we are faced with dealing with so much threat and trauma the body’s natural way to help us survive is that parts of our brains shut down.
- As a result, we are not able to fully process a lot of what is going on around us.
- Feeling somewhat numb and out of touch with our emotions is normal, especially if you have lived through trauma before.
- Some people may feel hypervigilant or anxious while others may become depressed. These are normal ways of dealing with extreme distress and we are different and respond individually.
- The processing of trauma often happens years later, when we feel more emotionally safe to deal with it.
- And it is important to know that when in the midst of trauma and coping with the impact of Covid-19, just getting by emotionally and functionally is OK.
- So it is helpful to lower expectations and being kind to yourselves and others is vital.
Please remember that if you are linked into Martlets and you’re struggling, you are very welcome to call us for support. Our counselling team, bereavement service, social workers and chaplain are all here to help.
With warmest wishes,
Useful Services and information:
Cruse Bereavement Service
Cruse offer a bereavement helpline to give support as you need it in addition to their website where you can also find resources on how to support your child.
Winston’s Wish has a wealth of resources and advice on how to support your child through bereavement, whilst also dealing with your own grief. They also have a free phone helpline you can call.
Childhood Bereavement UK
Child Bereavement UK supports families and educates professionals when a baby or child of any age dies or is dying, or when a child is facing bereavement.