Supporting local families in bereavement during Covid-19

During this difficult period, many of us will be faced with the death of someone we care deeply about.

We have a team of staff and volunteers, who are trained and have a huge amount of experience and knowledge in how to support people who are grieving, so we are making the following information available to all families who are facing bereavement.

The death of a loved one can leave us facing a spectrum of feelings and emotions, at a magnitude many of us will not have experienced before, and we may feel frightened and overwhelmed. Although each of us reacts to loss in different ways, we have tried to describe some of the feelings and experiences most frequently felt by bereaved people.

It is not uncommon for newly bereaved individuals to experience a range of emotions, such as: numbness, disbelief, anxiety, sadness, anger, yearning, fear, panic, guilt, and even euphoria. We can also experience changed behaviours such as changes to sleep patterns (too much or too little), confusion, lack of concentration, forgetfulness, withdrawing, increased or decreased appetite, fear of being alone, restlessness, apathy, often being overwhelmed by emotions.

Grief

If you recognise any of these feelings in yourself, we would like to reassure you that these, although often difficult to cope with, are very natural. Grieving is the natural process of adapting to loss. Some people describe it as feeling similar to a rollercoaster ride; one minute you’re ‘up’, the next you’re ‘down’ and at other times ‘upside down’.

Believing the reality of loss

At first you may feel numb, strangely calm and detached, or confused and unable to take in what has happened. For a while it may be impossible to believe that someone has died. It is not uncommon to think you can hear or see your loved one.

Yearning

You may look for them in a crowd, listen for them when the phone rings, or see them in a favourite chair – even though you know they will not be there. At times you may have the feeling that you are searching for something but are never able to find it. You are not ‘going mad’, something very natural is happening.

Disorganisation, emptiness and fear

This is often the longest part of grieving. You may feel that you no longer have a reason for living; nothing interests you and you lack motivation. Often feelings of confusion, the inability to focus on anything and overwhelming tiredness can prevail and you question what is happening to yourself. You may even worry you are ‘going mad’. You are not: grief can be a lengthy and exhausting experience as your mind and body process and adjust to your loss. It’s not uncommon to feel guilty for things you did or didn’t do. Many bereaved people find themselves feeling angry – with God, family, friends, the hospital and medical staff, themselves or with the one who has died. It is not at all unusual to have difficulty in remembering even simple everyday tasks during this time. Many people also have feelings of anxiety, helplessness, fear and tremendous loneliness during this time. You may well think that you will never feel better again.

Health

It is quite natural to feel tired and be unable to sleep, eat or concentrate properly. You may begin to have pains you normally don’t have. For the most part these are things that happen to bereaved people, but if they persist you should contact your doctor.

Wanting to escape

You may feel that you could cope better if you moved house and disposed of the things that are reminders of your loved one. Bereavement IS painful. It is much better to make important decisions, like moving house, when you are able to think more clearly and objectively. Try to avoid making big decisions until you feel stronger and more able to cope with life.

How can I help myself?

Grief is individual and each of us reacts to it differently. No one can completely understand what another person’s grief is like, but it is an experience most of us will go through at some point in our lives. If you find that you have feelings of guilt, panic, fear, anger or self-pity, or any others that seem alien to you, try not to hide them, but share them with someone you trust, who is understanding and willing to listen, as often this can be very helpful. Remember, these feelings are part of your grief.

Beginning to live again

In time you will become aware that you are beginning to have better hours and days. Gradually you will begin to renew some of your old interests and take up new ones, and will find pleasure and happiness creeping in. We often hear individuals say that they feel guilty for having happy or positive thoughts; this is not uncommon at all and it is important for you to remember that this is part of your grieving process and an adjustment to your new situation. You will find yourself being able to listen to that ‘special’ song or recall a memory of something special you once shared with your loved one and find it brings more happiness than sadness. Your love and memories of that special person will never leave you and through the talking and sharing of your memories, amidst your sorrow, you will develop ways to cope, and find hope and happiness for the future.

Counselling

Whilst we know grief is an emotionally difficult and painful experience, it is not uncommon for these initial, very raw and overwhelming emotions and behaviours to last for between three and six months. If you find that your emotions and behaviours do not lessen after this period of time, or indeed they worsen, it may be that bereavement counselling could be of help to you. The next section features a short list of questions to help guide you. If you answer “yes” to any of the questions, then counselling may help you.

IMPORTANT – Unfortunately, Phyllis Tuckwell cannot provide counselling support to everyone. For you or your family to be supported by Phyllis Tuckwell in bereavement, your loved one who has died, either needed to be under the care of Phyllis Tuckwell, or we will have received an NHS referral for you. If you are not aware of a referral, please contact the hospital, care home or the GP involved in your loved one’s care and ask them for a retrospective referral.

Alternatively, you can find other organisations who may be able to help, on our Bereavement Services leaflet, here.

Should you (or someone you know) be experiencing emotions and behaviours which are causing you to harm yourself or others, or you answer ‘yes’ to question 7 below, we urge you to seek immediate appropriate help from someone such as your GP, the Samaritans, a trusted friend or counselling. If you feel at immediate risk, phone 111 or contact the police.

Questions to ask yourself

1. Have you experienced continual disruption to your normal routines (such as sleeping or eating), so much so that it is affecting your daily life?

2. Have you consistently withdrawn or cut yourself off from your usual group of friends or family?

3. Do you feel you are regularly overwhelmed by your emotions?

4. Do you try to keep yourself constantly busy so you won’t think about your loss?

5. Do you find yourself consumed by thoughts of your loved one several months after his or her death?

6. Do you feel unable to talk about your loved one or any feelings and concerns surrounding your loss, with family and friends?

7. Are you troubled with thoughts of harming yourself or ending your life?

Is there anywhere else I can get support?

CRUSE offers bereavement support and you can contact the local office on 01483 565660. If you need someone to talk to as a matter of urgency, The Samaritans number is 08457 909090.

Yellow Heart

If your loved one died under the care of Phyllis Tuckwell, you may like to join the nationwide “Yellow Heart” initiative and display this yellow heart in your window. It shows you are grieving for your loved one, that you are not alone and that their memory lives on in your heart.

PDF Download – Here

 

Support for families of Phyllis Tuckwell patients

For those whose loved one has died under the care of Phyllis Tuckwell, we offer a range of bereavement support services to help you through this difficult time. The services can be found here: Our Bereavement Support Services.

You can contact our administration team (01252 729430 – alternatively email: pafs@pth.org.uk) and we can arrange to conduct an informal telephone assessment appointment for you. This telephone assessment will be carried out by a qualified counsellor who will offer you the opportunity to talk about how you are feeling, ask some questions and discuss the appropriate support for you.

If you have already accessed emotional support from a member of the Patient & Family Support team, and feel you would like to continue to see the same person, we will do our very best to make this happen. However we also have a team of staff and volunteers, who are trained and have a huge amount of experience and knowledge in how to support you.

For more information on the areas where we can help you, please contact the Patient & Family Support team on 01252 729430 or email pafs@pth.org.uk.

St Patrick’s Breastplate

These ancient words come from a longer prayer commonly known as St Patrick’s Breastplate or The Deer’s Cry. It is a prayer for protection which I used with staff at PTHC early on in the pandemic, when fears and uncertainty about PPE were common. As we face new rules and etiquette around face masks and hygiene, this prayer might be useful for anyone who is anxious about going out of their house or knowing what PPE to wear.

The word God can be substituted for a word that you feel comfortable with such as Love, Hope, Beauty or Peace.

A Litany Of Remembrance

I have used these words many times at both Funeral Services and Hospice Memorial Services. The words echo the familiar Remembrance Day act of remembrance whilst also picking up on the idea that our memory of loved ones can often be triggered by and echoed in nature. Families have sometimes adapted the words to reflect the particular interests of their loved one or places that were special to them.

At a time when people are not always able to attend the Funeral Service of someone they care about these words could be used at home, as a way of saying a personal goodbye.

The Serenity Prayer

The Serenity Prayer is part of a much longer prayer written by the American Theologian Reinhold Niebuhr in the 1930s. The prayer became popular amongst church groups during the ‘30s and ‘40s and was later adopted by Alcoholics Anonymous and other twelve-step programs.

In a time of heightened fear and uncertainty this poem can help us as individuals to learn to accept the ‘new normal’, recognizing what we can do to protect ourselves and help others whilst also letting go of worries about things that lie beyond our control.

A Committal Prayer

This prayer was written by Ruth Burgess and comes from her book of resources for funerals called ‘Saying Goodbye’. It is an alternative to the traditional words used at the Committal.

At a time when some people are unable to be with their loved one when they die or unable to attend the funeral, this prayer could be used if you want to say a personal goodbye, either at the time of the funeral or in the days after.

Into the freedom of wind and sunshine we let you go.

Into the dance of the stars and the planets we let you go.

Into the wind’s breath and the hands of the Star-maker we let you go.

We love you, we miss you, we want you to be happy.

Go safely, go dancing, go running home …

Although everyone reacts to the death of a loved one in different ways, we have a leaflet on dealing with grief and a booklet on emotional support, which may be of help. For more information about different groups and bereavement support services, please see our Resources page.
Bereavement support is part of the Phyllis Tuckwell Patient & Family Support team; they can be contacted on 01252 729430 or emailed at pafs@pth.org.uk.