Death, Dying & Bereavement

Healthcare workers, including caregivers and all hospital staff, are faced with increased exposure to death and dying during the COVID-19 pandemic. COVID-19 related deaths, including those of patients and co-workers, bring specific challenges such as:

  • Overwhelming exposure to death and dying (e.g., prolonged exposure to bodies or bodies being kept in different locations)
  • Experiencing losses closer together than usual (e.g., multiple per day, etc.)
  • Exposure to patients suffering and death without family members being present at the bedside
  • Cultural differences and language. Difficulty communicating with families without appropriate interpreters.
  • Delivering last rites: supporting families to complete cultural rituals without training or the  resources (ie cultural knowledge, chaplains, social workers, interpreters, training, priests)
  • Communicating with families in a culturally appropriate manner.
  • Engaging in attempts to support patients and family members (from afar), at times without the support of other staff such as chaplains, social workers due to workplace shortages, or “fill in” as loved ones for patients
  • Fears of contamination or contracting the virus themselves or passing the virus to a loved one at home
  • Physical separation, such as self-quarantine, from one’s own support network (e.g., family and friends) while attempting to process these difficult and traumatic experiences
  • Guilt and stress associated with physical separation and exposure to COVID especially for caregivers of young children and elderly
  • Physicians and nurses unable to provide a connection between patients and their families/ friends in times of death and dying.
  • Physicians and Nurses feeling guilty that they are unable to provide a connection between patients and their families/ friends in times of death and dying

Symptoms of Grief and Traumatic Stress

  • Feeling in shock or unreal
  • Numbing or disbelief
  • Difficulty eating, sleeping, and concentrating
  • Irritability or anger
  • Increased alcohol use or taking prescription medications not as prescribed
  • Preoccupation with death and dying
  • Guilt, self-blame, or survivor’s guilt
  • Avoidance of reminders i.e. not talk about the trauma, refusing to talk about the stress, etc.
  • Intrusive thoughts about death, loss, both experienced and imagined
  • Anxiety, depression
  • Burnout, compassion fatigue (link to other resource on our website)

How to Cope and Manage COVID-19 Grief and Stress

  • Seek ways to process your thoughts and feelings, such as writing them down or talking to a trusted friend or colleague
  • Avoid trying to “push through” the grief by working harder or longer hours and ignoring your emotions
  • Notice and label thoughts you have related to self-blame, guilt, and fear; reminding yourself that these are just thoughts, not facts and they are common thoughts to have in these circumstances
  • Engage in relaxing activities, even if you can only do so for a few minutes, such as deep breathing, meditating, drawing, writing, or listening to music
  • Put energy into your connections, even if from a distance, such as family, friends, colleagues, and broader communities such as churches or social groups
  • Consider forming a buddy system at work for check-ins, as you are all going through the same circumstances even though your specific challenges and how you experience them will be different
  • Keep tabs on your media consumption. Take a purposeful break from the news. Unplug from work in a mindful manner. (For example, set limits on texting co-workers about work and checking work emails)
In Loving Memory