Bereavement and Grief

Nothing can separate us from the Love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:39) Photo: Elizabeth Perry/Anglican Alliance

In this section:

  1. Resources on grief and bereavement
  2. Lessons learned from faith responses to other epidemics
  3. Going deeper 

1. Resources on grief and bereavement

“The simple truth is that nothing you say will be able to take away the person’s painful feelings. On the other hand, your attitude will speak volumes. Just spending time with them says that you care. So, do not worry about what to say. Very often, listening to the person who has had someone die is more important than saying the ‘right’ thing…. There is no standard or ‘right’ way for someone to grieve. Most people feel a range of emotions as the days and weeks go by.” Church of England guidance.

These resources from the Church of England have some very simple information about grief and bereavement that can help people to support a friend after the loss of a loved one, and to understand their own responses of grief and loss: After the funeral – journey through grief and supporting the bereaved. There are more in-depth resources on the Church of England website too, including resources for parents and families, funeral and bereavement resources for ministers and resources for school leaders. Please note, these resources are not specific to COVID-19, so some of the suggestions for ways to help are not applicable during lockdown or with physical distancing.

This simple and clear handout from the Counselling and Psychological Services of the California State University provides a list of common responses to grief, which can be intense and distressing: natural grief responses. It is applicable to different cultures.

The websites of the UK mental health charity ‘Mind’ and the grief and bereavement charity ‘Cruse’ explain the feelings of grief and bereavement in a bit more detail and provide help on how to manage them and how to support others around you who have lost a loved one.

They also explain that bereavement and grief can also occur when people lose other things that are important to them, for example: the loss of physical abilities due to illness or ageing, loss of a job, the end of a relationship, moving to a new location and the loneliness of not knowing people and losing friends.  People can go through similar reactions in these circumstances to those experiencing the loss of a loved one thorough death. This is important to understand with the current wave of ‘lock-downs’ or restriction of movement orders that limit us from visiting friends and family, or even going to work. This can be more difficult for some people who have lost their job and face financial hardship and poverty.

For some people these feelings of grief and loss may come when the loss of a loved one (or any of the other things above) is anticipated. This is called anticipatory grief. Some people can be surprised by the strength of feelings they experience when the loss has not yet taken place.

The loss of a loved one may lead to other ‘secondary losses’ such as loss of income, or their contribution in church or community life. Anniversaries and special events such as birthdays, anniversaries and weddings can bring back strong emotional reactions as the grief is re-activated.

Cruse provides additional information about the issues of grief and bereavement raised by the COVID-19 epidemic: here. Topics covered include: grieving and isolationtraumatic bereavement,  anger and blame,  feeling guilty and  feeling your bereavement is not a priority.


 2.     Lessons learned from faith responses to other epidemics

This article in the Journal of the Humanitarian Practice Network, Grief and memorialisation: making meaning with Ebola-affected families, reports on the recent outbreak of Ebola in DRC and provides a case study on the work of the Bethesda counselling organisation. Bethesda is a faith-based organisation that has provided community support in the area for some years and has expanded its services to meet the needs of grieving families who have lost loved ones to Ebola. This is an important article as it documents a very recent faith-based response to a different but similar crisis, is relevant to non-western contexts and provides a good counterbalance to other material emerging from the West.

The article highlights how burial practices imposed to prevent the spread of Ebola caused huge distress to bereaved families and the importance of engaging with affected communities to identify meaningful alternatives. The case study describes the steps Bethesda took “to walk alongside grieving families … to provide care and healing”. The process involved listening to the experiences of the family, inviting families to share their experiences and stories of the loved one who had died, writing good-bye letters to the loved one, sharing ideas about coping mechanisms and how to process the strong emotions that come with grief and how to gradually engage in social and faith related activities again. These discussions took place over time though a series of meetings. The journey culminated in planting a tree to remember the loved one. Feedback from the community included the reflection that grief takes time. It does not go away at once but takes time to grow like a tree.

The article also reflects on the skills needed by faith-based organisation staff to accompany the bereaved and could be useful in staff training.


3.     Going deeper

These UK web pages on grieving process theory provide an in-depth look at the work of different psychologists who have attempted to describe the process of grief and loss. This can be helpful for health and other professionals who are having to deal with many more clients who have lost loved ones than normal and need additional knowledge to back up their support.