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What could be more 2020 than a festival of bereavement? Over 6,000 people have signed up to Good Grief, a three day event billed as “a virtual festival of love and loss” that will explore the unique shape of grief during the Covid-19 pandemic.
With a line-up resembling a lively literary festival rather than an undertakers’ convention, speakers will include comic actor and writer Robert Webb, psychotherapist Julia Samuel, a friend of Princess Diana, and palliative care expert Dr Rachel Clarke. It was planned pre-pandemic to help open up British attitudes towards grief. But the event has taken on fresh urgency after nearly 60,000 more deaths in England and Wales since the start of the crisis than on average – a 23% increase in mortality.
It means that when all deaths are considered, at least a million people have been bereaved at a time when normal rituals, visits and contact have been upended by lockdowns.
A study is underway at the universities of Cardiff and Bristol seeking evidence from people who have had to go through socially distanced bereavements. But already it is clear to the festival organiser, Dr Lucy Selman, there are likely to be long-term effects. Missing out on regular contact before death, not being able to say goodbye and funeral restrictions could store up future problems such as post-traumatic stress disorder and an inability to move forward, she said.
Selman, a social scientist at the University of Bristol who studies bereavement, was prompted to plan the event before the pandemic after her second daughter was stillborn in 2018. She said the thousands of people who have signed up to the free festival, which is being backed by the Wellcome Trust, suggests there may have been “some sort of shift in our perspective on grief”.
A “grief school” with modules on grieving during Covid, delayed grief and traumatic loss will be available to view throughout the festival which starts on 30 October.
One of the festival speakers will be Kathryn de Prudhoe, a psychotherapist from Leeds who has experienced “a very complicated kind of grief” after her father Tony Clay, 60, died from Covid at the height of the pandemic in April.
“This is not ordinary grief because of how people died,” she said. “Lots of the deaths were sudden and unexpected and lots of relatives couldn’t see their loved ones. People have been grieving in isolation. My mum had to isolate for 11 days after my dad died. When she was able to come out of that self-isolation, she was completely traumatised. People couldn’t have normal grieving rituals and then there are the 24/7 reminders that you have lost a loved one – it’s on the news, people are wearing masks. There is also moral injury in the sense that this shouldn’t have happened. There is a lot of trauma and people need a lot of support.”
Another speaker will be Fatima Khan-Shah, 37, a health worker in Kirklees who lost two close relatives during the pandemic, one from Covid-19 in August.
“In the run up to someone’s death there are prayers and cultural rituals we do to help them on their journey but those normal structures that help us process grief aren’t there now.”
The traditional three days of mourning in a mosque or relative’s home was not possible.
“I missed that ability to hug and hold hands,” she said. “It was weird not to be able to come together.”
During Covid the grieving process can feel like it may never end, she said.
This summer, when she was buying a condolence card in a supermarket, she asked a woman behind her in the checkout queue to keep her distance. The woman lost her temper and said Covid was a hoax.
“I just dropped everything and left in floods of tears,” she said.
“You want to hold on to the idea that the end is in sight, but there is no end in sight and so you are not able to transition through your grief”.
Source: The Guardian
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