Rev. Andrew Halladay of St. Andrew’s Anglican Church in Langley City said not being able to hold funerals in person has been difficult for his congregation. (Matthew Claxton/Langley Advance Times)

Rev. Andrew Halladay of St. Andrew’s Anglican Church in Langley City said not being able to hold funerals in person has been difficult for his congregation. (Matthew Claxton/Langley Advance Times)

Grief inescapable for those who have lost loved ones to COVID

Dealing with death has been difficult with so much on hold for a year

A year after the COVID-19 pandemic began, sparking lockdowns and emergency measures across Canada, people from Langley to Ottawa were commemorating the lives lost and the new ways they have to grieve all losses over a year defined by the coronavirus.

There have been 22,000 deaths across Canada from COVID-19, of which 1,394 were in B.C. as of March 11, the day the federal government announced the commemorations.

The constant pressure and fear of COVID-19 over the last year has affected the way people deal with grief, according to Linda Sheridan, adult bereavement program coordinator for the Langley Hospice Society.

“People’s grief response is affecting their COVID response, and people’s COVID response is affecting their grief response,” she said.

It’s about a higher level of fear and worry that’s on top of grief people are feeling for the death of a loved one.

The state of fear and anxiety is amplifying grief, and there’s no fallback on family and friends outside of their household.

“People are alone more with their grief,” Sheridan said.

The hospice society’s programs for the grieving have had to be radically rebuilt this year, with meetings via Zoom, or during last summer, distanced in tents on the lawn of the society’s Langley City headquarters.

Staff restructured the largest room in their offices to accommodate distanced one-on-one counselling, although masks are still required.

There has been added stress for those who have lost their loved ones to COVID-19 itself, said Sheridan.

They are unable to “take a break” from it, because reminders of COVID are everywhere – on social media, the news, in the masks and barriers at the grocery store.

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And because much of the news coverage is about statistics – how many were infected, in hospital, died each day – it can feel as though the specific death of their loved one is being reduced to a number, Sheridan said.

Ceremonies and religious observances around death and dying are also suffering due to the pandemic.

“One of the hardest things has been not having funerals,” said Rev. Andrew Halladay, vicar of St. Andrew’s Anglican Church in Langley.

“There have been a few deaths in our congregation – not from COVID-19,” Halladay said.

But for much of the spring, and again since November, holding large funerals has been banned under Provincial Health Orders. Since November, funerals are allowed with a maximum of 10 people in person.

Halladay said the church has conducted a few graveside ceremonies and has also done one online funeral that was quite meaningful, using the same technology that allows the congregation to connect for Sunday services.

Even for the small number of people who can gather, there are distancing and masking requirements, Halladay said.

“All of that feels really challenging in the context of grieving and sorrow,” he said.

People get angry about the restrictions, wanting a “proper” funeral for their loved one, he said.

Because most Anglicans are cremated after death, and their ashes scattered in the church garden, some people have held a small service or no formal service, and are planning instead to hold a celebration of life once everyone can gather again, later this year, said Halladay.

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