While the COVID-19 pandemic presented new challenges in patient care and support for their family and emotional networks, the issue of grief was particularly critical and painful: many people lost a loved one without the opportunity to say goodbye.
On The Conversation, Lucy Selman comments that – although dressing patients’ family members with IPDs takes time and puts them at risk of infection – even a short visit could make a difference: the farewell is of fundamental emotional and symbolic importance.
If visits are not possible, communication between patients and family members via smartphone and tablet can be comforting, but – continues Selman – high sensitivity is needed: some doctors in a Swiss hospital advise to be careful in using virtual contact when the patient is dying, as witnessing death in an intensive care unit could be traumatic.
The COVID-19 pandemic has led many people not only to be unable to say goodbye to their loved ones but also to mourn in solitude, without the proximity of other affections and without human contact, which – in these moments – are even more important than words. Whether it is a funeral, a procession, a refreshment, a commemoration, what all funeral rites share is the connection between people who share a person’s memory.
We are social animals, and rituals have meaning. Mourning, in particular, is a ritual that we also share with other animal species. As the anthropologist Adriano Favole points out in his book Resti di umanità. The social life of the body after death, when the first anthropologists began to reflect on the theme of death in extra-western societies, it became immediately apparent that very often it was conceived as a transformative process, accompanied by rituals, practices, behaviours. The body of the deceased, the practices that mark the liminal moments of death and those related to memory and remembrance, as well as the behaviours and rituals that are held in death of a loved one or socially important, have importance, a social life.
With the Ebola epidemic before and with the COVID-19 epidemic still in progress, these practices have been deeply shocked. Mourning has therefore been at the centre of these pandemics in different ways – from the number of people affected who died, the pain of the loss of a loved one and the new pain of not being able in any way to pay tribute to them as one would like, of not being able to make this collective pain, to socialize it.
Let us try here to point out considerations and resources that can be of help in a reflection on how the loss of a loved one and mourning have been transformed: