With COVID-19 still gripping the nation, it can be easy to forget our seniors who are passing amidst this global pandemic. But for family members of these seniors, it can be difficult and emotionally overwhelming to face saying goodbye to their terminally ill parents, spouses or siblings from a distance. Video conferencing is now the go-to choice of companies who have to communicate with their employees and teams at home. But this form of communication is also being used for families to say goodbye to their dying loved ones. It’s not ideal, but it’s what has to be done in this time of social distancing. After the death, social distancing doesn’t stop. Funerals and burial services also have to be done minimally if at all, which can interrupt the normal grieving process.

If you have a loved one in hospice or have recently lost someone, bereavement services in San Mateo and elsewhere can be a tremendous help. Let’s take a look at how this “new normal” is forcing families to grieve from a distance.

Technology to Say Goodbye

You may have used Zoom, Skype and other video conferencing apps in the past for work, but you may never have thought you’d be using it to say your last “I love you’s” to your dying family member. Yet this is where the trend is going, out of necessity for safety for all involved. It’s a harsh reality facing many families this spring. Most people, when asked how they would want to spend their last moments, would say they would want to spend it with their family, their children, their grandchildren. Well, some of them are, but it’s not always being done in person. Compassion on the part of nurses, home care workers, and other members of the healthcare team can make it all happen by bringing in laptops and smartphones to communicate with their loved ones who can’t be in the room.

Dr. Joanne Kuntz, director of palliative care at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta, says it’s moments like this when healthcare morphs into human care. One non-profit hospital has gathered laptops and other devices so patients can say goodbye to their loved ones through a program called COVID Tech Connect. These devices help families get closure and comfort by being able to communicate with dying family members, getting that visual and verbal contact that cushions the blow of loss in some way.

But COVID-19 aside, not everyone is dying from the virus. Death marches on for those suffering from cancer, heart disease, and other terminal illnesses. Their funerals will not draw in hundreds of people, the family will not be gathering to mourn, hug and cry together, and mercy meals at shuttered restaurants won’t take place.

What are the grieving people left behind to do?

A Different Kind of Closure

Let’s say your father died alone in hospice or the hospital because no visitors were allowed. Then you planned a service but only a few people felt comfortable enough to come, and those who did come had to stand six feet apart. The burial was attended by only the most immediate family members, again six feet apart. No meal afterward to come together with family and reminisce like you normally would. Then, once it’s all over, you would usually go back to work to get your mind off things. But if your place of employment is non-essential and shut down, where do you go? Where are your outlet and sense of normalcy?

Disasters tend to limit mourning, and when that happens, people invent new ways to say their goodbyes. This isn’t the first time this has happened. Take the Black Death in Europe, for example, which led to a high mortality rate among priests. As a result, laypeople stepped into the role of priest and filled a need, according to the New York Times. During the Civil War, families in America starting embalming dead soldiers so as to preserve them over time and distance. This would ensure they could be brought back home and given a proper burial. Crises accelerate change, and we are certainly in the midst of that now.

More and more people are turning to online funerals to help dissolve the constraints of group gatherings, size, location, and cost. Eulogies are changing too, taking on the form of recorded remarks from family and friends as they abide by social distancing rules. They may choose to film their words of comfort and remembrance at different places that held significant value to the person who died, for instance, such as a favorite front porch rocking chair, a beloved hiking trail, a community fishing pond, or even the site of a first date.

As the losses start to mount, so too does the determination to create new ways of comforting the bereaved. Grief support groups are being formed online, volunteers are organizing tablet donations to local hospitals so families can say their last goodbyes, and social media pages act as memorials for the deceased whereby people can leave a memory and perhaps a picture. A shift is happening, and it’s only been two short months, with an increased focus on memorializing a person’s life, finding new ways to signal sorrow.

Contact Pathways Home Health and Hospice

Here at Pathways, bereavement counseling and other usually face-to-face services are available via telephone and other media. Contact us at 888-978-1306 to learn more.