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https://civilservice.blog.gov.uk/2021/08/03/covids-impact-on-grief/

COVID’s Impact on Grief 

Image of a father and daughter walking at sunset

As lockdown eases, life slowly returns to normal but for those bereaved, COVID has wreaked a devastating impact. Part 4 in our Bereavement and Loss series by Adam Land

Death during normal times is tough to cope with, however, during COVID, the grieving process was disrupted and sense of loss heightened. Cabinet Office Permanent Secretary Alex Chisholm recently spoke about the impact on civil servants touched by COVID and loss. Two colleagues have shared their personal stories with me, highlighting the impact.  

Shagufta Sharif – Inclusion Lead, Department for Transport

Shagufta Sharif and her late father
Shagufta and her late father

My name is Shagufta and my Dad Mohammed Sharif passed away earlier this year. Dad arrived in the UK in the Seventies from Pakistan. He worked in the mills and set up a vibrant business with his entrepreneurial spirit. 

Mohammed had four daughters and two sons and he instilled the passion for education in us all - with a focus on ensuring his daughters became independent, strong women.

Dad always said, “Money comes and goes but a good education stays with you forever.” He enforced equality at home, going against the norm in Pakistani homes back then. We all shared chores, responsibilities and leadership. My Dad is the reason I do the work that I do. 

Mentor, guide and friend

My Dad the feminist was my mentor, guide and friend. Dad was passionate about equality and taught me to see blessings every day. He was spontaneous, hard-working, charitable and kind. He had strong morals and always advocated doing the right thing over the easy option. Dad taught me about women’s rights in Islam - not the view of Islam the general public is often privy to. 

Ramadan

My Dad died in the blessed month of Ramadan and when he passed away, he left an enormous wedge in our hearts. 

COVID had a huge impact on our grieving process. As Muslims, funerals take place very quickly after death. My Dad’s death was unexpected, he died of a heart attack on Thursday and was buried next day. Burial is normally followed by three days of mourning – an opportunity for everyone to pay their respects, mourn with you and support you. 

It allows you to grieve to your heart’s content, cry and let it all out. During COVID, mourning is taking a greater toll on us all. The support systems that would normally help pull you get through aren’t there. Phone calls can never replace hugs.

Family attending the funeral was restricted and nobody was able to visit our home and mourn with us. We are six siblings, and being together with our Mum is what we all needed, yet that had to be limited. 

Image of candles floating

A couple of months on, our pain remains raw. Relatives and friends wishing to pay their respects must do so separately. Every time I meet someone again, the pain is relived over and over again. 

My Dad’s brother was unable to attend the funeral, and with Pakistan on the red list, he had to quarantine alone in a hotel, before he could reach us. I can’t imagine how tough that was for him.

All of us need to go back to work and get on with life, however, it feels like there’s unfinished business.

Laura Murfin – Organisational and Employee Development Consultant, Her Majesty’s Land Registry

Laura Murfin's late father-in-law was a victim of Covid in lockdown which made the grieving process harder
Laura Murfin's late father-in-law Brian

My father-in-law, Brian, aka Grandad Lion to his grandchildren, died of Covid-19 on 15 April 2020. Brian had Alzheimer’s and was in a care home and initially we felt quite complacent. We couldn’t keep him safe at home, the care home locked down early, he’d be safe, we reassured ourselves. We quickly realised this wasn’t the case.

On Easter Sunday, Brian developed a temperature, then rapidly deteriorated. We couldn't visit, the hospital wouldn't admit him and the GP would only video call. By Wednesday he died. 

The grieving process in that first lockdown was surreal - with none of the 'normal' markers of grief. We supported my mother in law from the doorstep, couldn't see the body and couldn’t accept childcare while we grieved. 

Laura Murfin's father in law, Brian

There was a socially distanced funeral, no funeral cars, instead, we drove ourselves. The wake consisted of five of us spaced out in the garden with a flask of tea and a brandy each, but even that bent the tight restrictions.

Robbed of goodbye

This odd ‘arms-length’ grieving process has been tough, especially as COVID remains so pervasive. Although Brian was vulnerable, he was in good shape physically, still recognised us all and got pleasure from our visits. We weren't ready to write him off.  We feel cheated how fast the end came, robbed of the opportunity to say goodbye. 

Laura and Shagufta found that sharing their loss provided comfort and I want to thank them both. I hope they provide you with some comfort.

If you’ve been bereaved during COVID, your colleagues will be supportive so don’t be afraid to seek help. 

Civil Service Support Services include;

◼︎ Employee Assistance Programme - Departments offer a confidential 24/7 helpline and triage to counselling services. Visit your Department’s EAP Portal for tools and online resources.

◼︎ Mental Health First Aiders - some of our in-house MHFA’s have had bereavement training, talk to them in confidence. 

◼︎ Grief Cafes – Bereavement Networks run regular Grief Cafes for colleagues to share grief and loss.

◼︎ Civil Service Faith and Belief toolkit

◼︎ Charity for Civil Servants

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9 comments

  1. Comment by Darren Blakemore posted on

    Thanks so much to Laura and Shagufta for sharing such personal stories. We hope they help others deal with grief in these difficult times.

  2. Comment by Gavin Thomas posted on

    May I begin by expressing my condolences to Shagufta and Laura for their loss. The loss of a family member or friend can be upsetting during normal times, but the restrictions that the Covid 19 pandemic had created had made the situation even more difficult to cope with.

    My father in law passed away suddenly last November, and I experienced the challenges that the pandemic had posed with the administration and funeral arrangements. I recall when registering his death having to spend about 25 - 30 minutes on the telephone having to spell out to the Registrar every entry, to ensure that the information I was giving her was correct, and then after the call feeling pretty exhausted!

    Because my father in law was Nepali and a Buddhist, we had to arrange the funeral in a manner that captured aspects of his beliefs whilst observing the Covid restrictions. Fortunately, the Crematorium had an internet camera link that allowed those who were not able to attend or were in Nepal, to be able observe the service.

    So my thoughts are with Laura, Shagufta and others out there who have had to cope with a bereavement or loss during these challenging times.

  3. Comment by Amy D posted on

    I'm so sorry to hear of your sad losses in what was already such a difficult and horrible time. My heartfelt condolences to you and your families.

  4. Comment by Shaista Razaq posted on

    I started to read your stories and it resonated with me. I'm sorry for those who have lost a loved one. We lost my brother-in-law, my sister's husband. My sister's name is Shagufta too. We come from a large family unit too, though I have only the one sister, I could not be with her. Facetime was difficult, words are hard - hugs truly cannot be replaced. I felt that I could not be there for the most difficult time in her life.
    We also lost 2 family friends, a truly difficult period. My prayers are with those who have lost so much during COVID.

  5. Comment by Stephanie Mitchell posted on

    My deepest sympathy to all who have lost family and loved ones during this ever-so-difficult time. I feel fortunate to still 'have' my father -- but so wish I could see him (he's overseas and travel restrictions make it impractical....) and my brother.

    I've been to several funerals via Zoom, which is a strange experience -- but better than not being there. Those who agitate to reclaim their 'freedom' perhaps forget that all this is a matter of life and death, of fellow human beings, who are each worth so much to those who love them.

  6. Comment by Florentina Taylor posted on

    Dear Shagufta and Laura,

    Thank you so much for sharing your stories and sincere condolences for your loss. What amazing people Mr Sharif and Grandad Lion were, and how incredibly difficult it must have been to lose them, especially during the pandemic!

    My thoughts are with you, your families and everyone who has lost loved ones. Wishing you strength and peace at this difficult time!

  7. Comment by Jaci Davies posted on

    I wish to add my condolences to all who have lost family and loved ones during COVID restrictions. I echo Shagufta's feeling of unfinished grief.
    I had several bereavements during this time, we lost my mums eldest sister, I decided to make the 300 mile round trip to support her and my cousins. It was hard, we are a close family and needed that forbidden contact of support. No wake was allowed so my cousins decided to defer internment of her ashes with my uncle until more "normal" times when we can properly celebrate her life and all who knew and loved her could be welcomed . We are patiently waiting.
    Perhaps more harrowing, in a different way, was the loss of my beautiful sister to suicide. How do you tell shocked and grieving friends, and worse relatives, that they didn't make the list to attend. At 50 she was in the prime of her life, with her children just setting out in their lives and young grandchildren, she should have been looking forward to enjoying the things you put on hold while raising your own family.
    Both losses are unfinished waiting for "freedom day" when we can say our goodbyes freely and support each other.

  8. Comment by Laura Murfin posted on

    Thank you all for your comments and sending love and condolences to those of you who have suffered loss. We hope the blog helps in some small way to know that you are not alone.