Ko te here o te aroha tē taea te wetewete. A loving bond cannot be undone
Everyone’s loss is unique, and their reactions and grief experiences are different, but we hope this information is helpful for you. Please adapt this information to suit your own situation.
The death of someone you care about is one of life’s most difficult experiences. If you’ve lost a loved one, we’d like to acknowledge your loss and the many thoughts and feelings you may have. It may feel like your world has been turned upside down and that so much has changed.
Experiencing the death of a loved one due to COVID-19 may bring extra challenges, such as:
- Often the death is sudden and unexpected.
- Co-existing or other health conditions may have contributed to their death.
- Bereaved whānau and family may have been isolated from their loved one at the time of their passing and unable to see them or say their goodbyes in person.
- Covid-19 updates continue to be in our news headlines and may trigger sadness and memories for you and your whānau.
- The loved one who has died may have been a main contributor to your household income and this may bring financial and other immediate challenges.
- You may need to take unpaid leave from your work, adding extra financial pressure.
- Health restrictions may have meant that whānau and close friends couldn’t grieve or farewell their loved one in a way that is religiously or culturally familiar to them.
Whatever challenges you're experiencing, these can affect how you grieve and cope with loss.
This information is designed to support you, and your whānau, as you navigate the many emotions and reactions that come with grief and bereavement.
We hope you’ll be able to find some solace in the information below. We have also included a downloadable resource that may help you, or any loved ones you are supporting.
Grief is a natural response to the loss of a loved one. It is important to look after yourself, and your loved ones. Take the time you need to grieve in your own way. It’s also okay to ask for help and support if you need it.
Living with a sudden loss
Covid-19 has changed the way we would normally be with, support, farewell and/or grieve someone we care about. For some people, it has added additional challenges to the grieving process.
Sudden and unexpected Covid-19 bereavement can mean:
- You and your whānau had little or no time to prepare for your loved one’s death when they were ill.
- You may not have been able to be with or support them during their illness or to say goodbye.
- You, or another whānau member, may have inadvertently passed the virus on to others and may be experiencing feelings of guilt, regret and distress about this.
- You may have been ill and isolating, so unable to see them when they were ill.
- Requirements around social distancing or border restrictions may have meant you couldn't be with your loved one when they were ill, or you weren't able to attend their funeral.
- Isolation may have stopped you from connecting in person with whānau or friends to share memories and remember the person who died.
- You might not have been able to farewell the person you cared about in a way that was culturally appropriate or in the ways of your faith.
All these situations, and others, can add to what you're going through. It is important to look after yourself and use support that’s available. Your own wellbeing matters.
Feelings of grief
Grief always takes the time it needs to take – and that’s different for everyone.
For many people, the sudden, unexpected loss of a loved one can bring with it strong and often unpredictable reactions. These reactions aren’t just emotional ones. Grief affects you physically, mentally and spiritually, and it can also affect your relationships with others.
In other words, grief affects you more than you often expect.
Some people may express they are feeling taimaha – an extreme heaviness weighing on their body, mind or spirit brought about by losing their loved one.
There is no right or wrong way to grieve, as everyone experiences loss differently. Knowing some common grief reactions others have experienced after a bereavement may be helpful. These include:
- Shock, disbelief.
- Intense sadness and distress, tearfulness or feeling numb and disconnected.
- Overwhelmed by emotion at times.
- Regret, guilt.
- More irritable or short-tempered, anger due to circumstances.
- Helplessness because you can’t change what’s happened.
- Worried and anxious about what will happen now.
- Hurting after not having had the chance to say goodbye.
- Relief that the person you care about is no longer in pain.
- Physical reactions such as body aches, headaches, exhaustion, nausea, stomach upsets, difficulty sleeping or sleeping more, changes in appetite, pre-existing conditions worsening.
- Wanting to be close to others or seeking time alone.
- Sensing the presence of your loved one with you.
- Forgetfulness, brain fog or poor concentration.
- Difficulty making decisions or completing tasks.
- Loss of interest in things usually enjoyed.
- Using drugs or alcohol to cope.
- Questioning life, your spiritual or cultural beliefs, loss of meaning or direction in life.
All these reactions are normal. Gradually, they will decrease in their intensity and become a little easier to manage.
Remember grief is different for everyone, so try not to judge yourself or others. Let go of unrealistic expectations.
Notice how you are feeling and what changes you are observing. If you need some extra support to cope, ask for it. Use your own circle of support - this may include whānau, friends, neighbours, respected elders or a faith leader, your GP, a local counsellor, a support service or a helpline. Sometimes, just spending time with a person you know well can feel supportive, even if you’re not doing anything at all.
Saying your goodbyes
Covid-19 health requirements, like having to isolate yourself, hospital and aged-care facility precautions, attendee numbers and border restrictions, may have affected how you said your last goodbyes to your loved one or farewelled them at a funeral.
If circumstances impacted how you farewelled your loved one, you may like to find your own ways to say goodbye. Take the time to remember and mourn for them in a way that feels right for you. Perhaps you could:
- Go to a place that holds special memories of your loved one and say your goodbyes there.
- Find ways to connect with others to share memories, say your goodbyes and acknowledge your loved ones passing in a way that helps you.
- Look back over photos or videos, remind yourself of the times you shared, visit their resting place and say your goodbyes.
- Connect and share memories with others who were close to the person.
- Recognise and accept any feelings of anger or frustration.
Hokia ō maunga kia purea e ngā hau a Tāwhirimātea.
Return to your ancestral mountains to be cleansed by the winds of Tāwhirimātea.
Recovering from the loss of a loved one takes time. The reactions you experience may be intense and could take a toll on you.
Be gentle with yourself, as there is no “normal” time period when grieving. Over the next few days, weeks, months, and even years, you may experience all kinds of reactions to your loss, and that’s okay. Keep in mind:
- There’s no wrong or right way to grieve. Grieve in the way that feels best for you.
- Don’t place timelines on your grief - let the process run its course.
- Stay connected to friends, whānau and your community. It can often help to talk with trusted friends or whānau about how you are feeling.
- Naturally, it can take time to adjust to what’s happened and to learn to live without your loved one. Take the time you need.
- It's okay to take a break and to try to distract yourself with other activities - doing this can help you adjust to loss while managing your everyday life. People often say they go in and out of their grief and that’s very normal. Expect it to be an up-and-down time for a while.
- Try to keep to your daily routine. Doing familiar things can be comforting and can help you to feel in control of some things at a time when other things have been out of your control.
- If you, or a loved one, are finding it hard to cope, reach out to someone you trust, a counsellor, GP or other support service. You can also free call or text 1737 24/7 to speak to a trained counsellor. To find other relevant helplines and support services visit mentalhealth.org.nz/helplines
- Expect that milestones, holidays and other reminders may trigger your memories and sadness. That’s okay. Just give yourself some extra care at those times.
- While grieving, self-care is essential. Make the time to look after your wellbeing by getting plenty of sleep and rest, eating healthy food, staying connected to others and keeping active.
Visit our Five Ways to Wellbeing webpage for more tips
Reminders of your loss
Regular updates of Covid-19 cases and deaths in Aotearoa continue to be ever-present in the news.
These may also be talked about by others around you and in your social media feeds. It is natural for these ongoing reminders to trigger your sadness or memories of your own loss at times.
Perhaps you could:
- Limit how much news you see, listen to, or read, and the time you spend on social media.
- Spend time with a friend, doing something active or something else you enjoy instead.
- Remind yourself that news updates often only tell one part of a story. Your own story belongs to you.
Hidden or disenfranchised grief
Hidden or disenfranchised grief can happen when grief remains unacknowledged or unseen or is minimised. Or it doesn't fit other people's expectations of what grief 'should' look like.
You may feel that some aspects of your loss and grief are not acknowledged or understood by others, or that you don’t have ‘permission’ to grieve more openly. When this happens, grief can become silent.
Some people have experienced disenfranchised grief around deaths due to Covid-19. This may be because media or public comments have made you feel like your loss is less relevant. For example, if your loved one was elderly or had an underlying health condition before they died, if there is any stigma associated with the virus, or if the person who passed away was overseas.
Believing that your grief is not supported by others can make it harder for you. It may increase feelings of loneliness, sadness, anxiety, and depression.
It’s important to remember that no matter what type of loss you’ve experienced, your grief is always valid.
The person you lost mattered, their life mattered and so did their death. Seek reassurance and caring support from a trusted friend or whānau, talk to your health professional or contact a support service. Visit here for a list of support services.
Supporting children with their grief
As well as experiencing your own grief, you may also be supporting tamariki/child or rangatahi /young person who is grieving in their own way. It can be hard for tamariki or rangatahi if their grief needs are overlooked by adults around them and they are not given the caring support they deserve.
The grief reactions of tamariki and rangatahi can depend on several things, including their age, developmental stage, how they react to stress, family circumstances, how others around them are grieving and their relationship with the person who has passed.
You may find they struggle to communicate how they’re thinking and feeling. You may notice their behaviour or emotions change. They will need ongoing attention, reassurance and support as they try to understand what has happened and why, and as they cope with their grief reactions.
It can help to:
- Acknowledge their loss and sadness.
- Just spend time with them.
- Reassure them if they are worried.
- Keep up routines as much as possible.
Check in with them regularly and listen to how they are doing.
- Help them find words to describe their feelings.
- Invite questions and answer them honestly with age-appropriate information.
- Share how you are feeling.
- Talk about their good memories of the person, find ways to celebrate that person’s life.
- Ask for support from close whānau or friends. You could also ask their teachers and other community leaders they know well.
If you are concerned about a tamariki or rangatahi after the loss of someone close, seek help and advice from your GP, healthcare professional or another support service.
For more support and information about supporting your child or young person through a bereavement visit Bereavement Reactions of Children & Young People By Age Group
Supporting someone through their grief
You may be supporting a friend, whānau member, colleague or employee who has lost a loved one due to Covid-19. It can sometimes be hard to know what to say, or how to help someone when they are grieving. Some things that you can do to help are:
- Acknowledge their loss by sending a card, reaching out over social media, calling, texting or visiting, if you are able.
- Just be there for them – if they want to talk, listen to their story about what’s happened and any memories they want to share, and offer emotional support.
- Understand the person may be experiencing some intense thoughts and feelings, which could include anger or frustration. Don’t judge the way they are grieving.
- Respect that they may have cultural or religious beliefs and traditions that differ from your own.
- Offer practical help – organise a meal train, help with contacting people, picking up groceries, dropping over baking etc. Follow through with any offers of support; but be aware that the support needed, and your capacity to provide it, may change over time.
- Grieving and learning to cope with a loss takes time, so your thoughtfulness may be welcome months or even years after their loved one's death. Things like remembering birthdays or other anniversaries, may be comforting to the person who has been bereaved.
- You may also be grieving, so be aware of the impact the bereavement may have on you and take care of your own needs too.
- If you are an employer, you may like to consider your organisation's bereavement leave policy when supporting staff who have had a whānau member die suddenly due to Covid-19. Also, does your organisation have protocol if an employee dies due to Covid-19, so that colleagues are provided grief support?