A commentary by the CEO of Victoria Hospice.
Every day in 2020 we are reminded of life’s uncertainties and the possibility of dramatic change and upheaval in our political, social and emotional worlds. One thing is certain: We all need kindness and connection.
Kindness and connection are what’s needed most by the community of people who have experienced, or are experiencing, or will experience, grief.
That’s every one of us.
We have lost more than 10,000 people to COVID-19 in Canada. Many of these people died alone, as have thousands of others who have died of other causes while in hospital during the pandemic. Everyone who has died during the pandemic leaves behind friends and family who have had to grieve alone, unable to join together with others to honour their loved ones and hold each other in grief.
Today is National Bereavement Day in Canada. Today we honour and acknowledge the unprecedented wave of grief that is sweeping across our communities and we act to support the people around us who may be grieving right now. The Canadian Hospice Palliative Care Association campaign this year reminds us that while we may be physically distant, grief can bring us together.
Support for people in grief is central to the work of Victoria Hospice, and it has been since the organization was founded 40 years ago. We’re seeing a dramatic increase in the demand for our bereavement services, and we know that demand speaks to the ways people are struggling more with grief at this time.
The Canadian Virtual Hospice website serves 2.4 million people annually and is the world’s most comprehensive online source of information on advanced illness, palliative care, loss and grief. In recent months, the virtual hospice is also reporting record demand for resources on MyGrief.ca and KidsGrief.ca.
In May, Victoria Hospice joined the Canadian Grief Alliance, a group of leading grief specialists and more than 150 national and provincial organizations convened by the virtual hospice. The alliance is advocating government to address national gaps in grief services that leave bereaved people isolated and unsupported when help is needed most. We know the lack of connection brought about by the pandemic has a profound effect on grievers. Our inability to gather together at the bedside or at funerals, memorials and celebrations of life compounds and complicates grief and loss.
We have not yet begun to understand the long-term impact on our communities of grief during the pandemic.
Although suffering related to prolonged and complex grief may lead to mental health concerns, grief itself is not a mental illness. Grief and loss are guaranteed in life, and the grief we feel for the death of someone important to us is the result of living and loving, and our meaningful connection with others.
Grief is a normal part of life and a natural response to loss. Still, bereaved people need to be supported.
The Canadian Grief Alliance has sounded an alarm about the risk of bereaved Canadians slipping through the cracks of the federal government response to COVID-19. They’re calling for a fast-tracked consultation process to guide a three-year federal investment in grief supports in communities, along with public education and research to better understand and respond to pandemic-related grief.
On National Bereavement Day, we can join the alliance’s efforts to build support for bereaved people and communities in Canada. Most importantly, we can reach out to someone who may be grieving. We can invite them to talk about the person they have lost. We can offer the gifts of time and support and compassion.
And we can share our virtual presence, using our new pandemic skills of staying connected and being kind even though we may be apart for now.