How to Help Grieving Loved Ones in a Pandemic

Covid-19 restrictions make grieving more difficult. Here are expert-backed tips for supporting people through the death of a loved one

Fiza Pirani
Elemental
Published in
6 min readSep 8, 2020

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Illustration: Jo Zixuan Zhou

In early August, I was driving from one Georgia suburb to another to attend a restricted, masked funeral for my best friend’s father — if you can call it a funeral at all. He was immunocompromised and died of Covid-19. At the service, his body was covered with a white sheet and sparse flower arrangements. My friend and her mother sat alone in the front of the state room, facing the body. They wore masks, shields, and gloves. As is customary in my friend’s Hindu culture, both mother and daughter dressed in all white.

There was no holding, no hugging, no tight grips of the hand to make it through the tears. There was hardly time to process anything at all due to the pandemic restrictions. I spent under 30 seconds in that room with them, with the body. I walked down the aisle, set my flowers on the white sheet, and only had my eyes to express my grief.

When we see a loved one grieving, we may be inclined to reach out and put an arm around their shoulder, grip their hand tight, wipe away their tears, or kiss them on the cheek. We might spend every waking moment glued to their skin, brushing their hair in the morning and feeding them spoonfuls at mealtime. But deep in the throes of a global pandemic, in the absence of safe physical contact, showing up for our grieving friends and family is complicated and can feel impossible.

“Touch is the most elemental way of calming distress,” says Leah Guttman, PsyD, a clinical psychologist based in New York. “It’s embedded in our biology as humans.” Think of a caregiver rocking a wailing newborn or a new mother holding her child against her chest for skin-to-skin contact. That physical touch, she says, is believed to help stabilize a baby’s heart rate and improve its breathing. And in the darkest pain, even in adulthood, people often tend to enter a…

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Fiza Pirani
Elemental

Atlanta-based writer/editor and bibliophile. Founder of immigrant and refugee mental health newsletter, Foreign Bodies. Join: foreignbodies.net 💌