By Allyson England Drake, M.Ed, CT

Facing the death of a friend or family member is a devastating experience. In “normal” times, we can sit with our loved one, hold their hand, hug them, soothe them, and have those final conversations in person.

However, the COVID-19 pandemic has made meeting at the bedside of a loved one and providing personal support all but impossible. Many hospitals and nursing facilities have stringent rules around visitation due to the health risks of the virus. 

So, when we are faced with a loved one dying in a hospital or care facility under these circumstances, what do we do? 

  • If your loved one is strong enough to talk or listen, hold video calls, such as Facetime or Skype.  Even if your loved one cannot respond, family and friends can share memories, sing songs, tell stories, read books, or share quotes, scripture or messages of inspiration to help them feel less alone.  If they are comfortable with it, allow children to sing songs, read books, or tell stories to the loved one who is dying as well. 
  • Video calls can also be helpful when saying goodbye cannot be done in person. Even though it may feel impersonal, the important part is that they hear your voice and you have a chance to share the words you want them to hear and feelings you want to express.  
  • Set a time each night to call and play music that is special to your loved one or meaningful to the two of you together. Again, even if your loved one cannot respond, the music may be comforting to them and help them relax. 
  • Ask about the hospital or facility rules regarding what items are acceptable to be dropped off or delivered for loved ones, such as letters or flowers. If a loved one is at home on hospice, you can call or text the family and ask what they are comfortable receiving on the front porch or in the mailbox. If children want to say goodbye, they can create a piece of artwork or write a letter to be given to a loved one.  These small tokens of goodbye can be very meaningful for both the children creating them, and for the loved one receiving them.    
  • To honor a friend or family member who is dying, start an online support page, such as Facebook or a CaringBridge site where anyone can add memories, stories, pictures, or words to say goodbye. These virtual pages can provide a place where friends and family can come together to support one another and honor the individual who is dying. If possible, these messages can be read to the friend or family member by a caretaker or hospital staff. 
  • Rituals are helpful to anyone anticipating the death of a loved one. The rituals can help you feel more connected to your loved one, even if you cannot be with them. Some meaningful examples include:
    • Prepare their favorite meal
    • Create a photo album together
    • Document stories and memories in a written or online scrapbook
    • Light a candle in their honor
    • Create a playlist of songs that the loved one enjoys
    • Give a donation in your loved one’s honor
    • Plant a tree or flowers in their honor
    • Create a memorial piece of artwork
    • Write a goodbye letter

Grief is painful and stressful, even in the best of situations. We must acknowledge that facing the death of a friend or family member during the COVID-19 pandemic is more challenging due to the social isolation and health and safety regulations that are currently in place.

But we can find ways to allow us to feel as connected as possible in our grief…we just have to be creative and open to new ways to say goodbye.