By Lara Gillham, Jackson’s Mom
How COVID-19 is Impacting Bereaved Parents
Losing a child is painful, no matter when it happens. Grieving during COVID-19 presents some unique challenges, but it also comes with some unexpected opportunities.
There is no question that COVID-19 is impacting bereaved parents. Parents who are grieving during this pandemic are finding they may not be able to celebrate their child’s birthday the way they had planned, their idea of what the death anniversary would look like may be changed, or they may have fears invoked about their other living children. For me, I had my rainbow baby at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in April 2020. After losing our son Jackson a year and a half prior, I was beyond excited to be able to purposefully live in the moment with my daughter, visiting family and friends, going out to stores and parks, celebrating the birthdays and holidays that my son never got, and just enjoying every day with her. I even arranged to become part-time at work so I could devote more time to being with her. But most of this has become fantasy rather than reality. My husband Ben and I have seen very few family members in person. We haven’t been inside a store in 10 months, and we’ve celebrated birthdays and holidays via video conferencing or alone. Jackson passed away shortly before Christmas in 2018 at only 6 months old, and as our only child, we had been waiting for years to have a Christmas with children. Opening presents via zoom was certainly not how we anticipated our daughter’s first Christmas to be, especially having avoided holidays for the past two years. But I had to consciously remind myself that we got to have a Christmas with her, and that’s what really mattered. I find myself repeating the same message as we get closer to celebrating her first birthday.
One thing I’ve noticed during this pandemic is that as a result of quarantining, stay at home orders, and social distancing, there is a lot of silence and time to sit with your thoughts. Ben and I are planners and are usually always doing something to keep busy. But what happens when places close down and you run out of things to do? Depending on how you grieve, the silence can be healing or possibly make the process more painful. I found that it gave me a lot more time to reflect on the time we had with Jackson, to purposefully spend quality time with our daughter Violet, and to focus on creating Just Enduring to help other bereaved parents.
Throughout this pandemic, we are learning that people are adaptable. So while there are many challenges COVID-19 has brought to grieving parents, it has also brought some unexpected silver linings. Virtual visits have become so common that many parents are meeting others they never would have talked to. It was shortly after Violet was born that we learned of another couple whose son had the same diagnosis as Jackson and also passed away. But they lived in California. So while I might not have thought about doing more than an online chat in the past, we were able to have an hour-long Zoom call with them, and it was no different than if we had met them in person (except maybe the lack of hugging). I was grateful to have the opportunity to talk with them from the comfort of my home with a newborn.
The pandemic has also provided us with more time to spend with our families. While I already had established working from home prior to COVID, Ben was able to join me shortly before the birth of Violet. That meant that after her birth, instead of nearly two hours spent commuting every day, he has been able to spend that time with us. We are able to get dinner on the table earlier and spend a little time relaxing at the end of the night. Additionally, with the time we save on commuting and with the flexibility of working from home, we are both able to devote more time to Just Enduring. Sure, we struggle to manage caring for a baby while working and it does result in some extra hours at night or weekends from time to time, BUT Ben gets to spend devoted time with Violet while I work two days per week, we can take a walk as a family on warm days, and we are both here for all of our daughter’s milestones and silly or exciting moments. Those are the things that really matter at the end of the day. As parents who have already lost one child, we want to cherish every possible moment with our other living children.
One other benefit to working from home (or even just wearing a mask and avoiding being close with others), is that it affords you your space without the pity or judgment that sometimes comes with being a bereaved parent. This pandemic has afforded grieving parents the opportunity to take the personal space they need without being judged for it – nobody knows you are avoiding people because you almost couldn’t get out of bed; they just assume it’s because of COVID-19. It has allowed bereaved parents the ability to feel however they feel that day, without putting on a special face or faking it to get through the day.
The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in different strategies and feelings for everyone, even among grieving parents. Some parents are terrified to go out and see others because they know just how real death can be and are afraid of losing another child or family member. Others may want to take advantage of life with their families, even if it means going out in public, because they know they are not guaranteed tomorrow. I would encourage family, friends, and co-workers of bereaved parents to respect the parents’ wishes during this time, whatever they may be. These parents are going through the unimaginable, and they need their support system now more than ever. To the grieving parents – no matter where you are in your grief journey, COVID-19 impacts the way you grieve and there is no right or wrong way. It is important to remember that you are not alone. There are so many other parents, grandparents, and siblings who feel the same as you. Be gentle with yourself and do what feels right to you.