The Rituals We Grieve; Milestones Lost To COVID-19

Written by Kelly Couture, MEd, LPC-S

“When words are inadequate, have a ritual.”  — Author Unknown

There are important rituals, rites of passage and causes for celebration in all cultures.  Some of these, such as graduation from high school or college took years of preparation and hard work.  Other sacred rituals, such as confirmation, baptism or bar/bat mitzvah denote a period of being a stronger part of a faith community.  Marriage is a ceremony of celebration while funerals allow us to mourn the losses of those close to us. All of these things have a common denominator: they are typically done in groups.  The groups celebrate together, support each other, cry with one another.  

During the COVID-19 pandemic, many of the ceremonies and traditions that we hold dear within our cultures were put on hold with shelter in place and social distancing measures. While these measures were put in place for the greater good and preservation of life, they did lead to the cessation and/or altering of sacred functions for many of us. And, for this, many of us have grieved.

Many high school and college graduates have had to switch to a virtual option for graduation or have the graduations cancelled completely.  Colleges and universities had to close quickly and switch to online classes in March and many seniors were not able to say goodbye to classmates with whom they bonded over the past 4+ years. The cost associated with returning to school after having to return home (compounded if family wish to attend) could be staggering, especially in a time of financial turmoil.

Our loved ones may have died alone (or with strangers) and we were not allowed to say “goodbye” as this could pose health risks.  With shelter in place, many of us have had to begin the mourning process alone or with very little support. And, our deceased loved one, in some cases, may not have been laid to rest in a permanent location. Per Alan Wolfelt, PhD, “Funerals let us physically demonstrate our support, too. Sadly, ours is not a demonstrative society, but at funerals we are “allowed” to embrace, to touch, to comfort.  Again, words are inadequate so we nonverbally demonstrate our support. (Funeral Home Customer Service A-Z; Creating Exceptional Experiences for Today’s Families.  Wolfelt, Alan 2005).  That tangible show of support allows for grieving to be experienced more fully.

What to do if a ritual, celebration or ceremony occurs during shelter in place?

Intentionally reach out to your support system and voice your feelings in an authentic manner. If this is not possible, consider speaking with a counselor to process grief/loss.

Consult with the National Funeral Directors Association to determine how to set up a virtual funeral. Talk with family about what aspects would be most important.

If possible, postpone the function. Many wedding planners are advising couples to reach out to vendors in an attempt to change the date.  And, in doing so, this could potentially help small businesses. Some schools are re-scheduling graduation ceremonies.

Engage in self care the best you can. Eat healthily, try to sleep, consider meditation and mindfulness to be in the moment versus projecting into the future or focusing solely on the loss.  Consider keeping a journal to write down feelings in order to process them another time.

Keep a time capsule of documents and mementos to review and discuss when grief is not as raw and one is able to begin truly processing the loss.

Remember that grief has several stages and is not necessarily linear.  You may experience denial, anger, depression, bargaining and eventually acceptance.  However, you may experience depression initially and bounce between a couple of the stages in your personal journey.

Please do not discount your feelings during this time.  Your feelings are valid and are worthy of consideration and processing.

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