Funeral director David Root of Pierson’s Funeral Service poses for a portrait in Calgary on Friday, Dec. 4, 2020. As Canada reports more than 12,000 deaths due to COVID-19, two experts say the pandemic has not only changed the way we live our lives, it has also changed the way we view death. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Todd Korol

Funeral director David Root of Pierson’s Funeral Service poses for a portrait in Calgary on Friday, Dec. 4, 2020. As Canada reports more than 12,000 deaths due to COVID-19, two experts say the pandemic has not only changed the way we live our lives, it has also changed the way we view death. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Todd Korol

‘Purpose in the pain’: People appreciate life more, grieve differently in pandemic

Restrictions on funeral services in most provinces have challenged workers and families

The COVID-19 pandemic has not only changed the way we live our lives, but also the way we view death, say some experts.

More than 12,000 Canadians have so far died due to COVID-19.

Death’s inevitable companion — grief — has become more difficult for many people. But a funeral director and a grieving expert say the mourning families they have met during the pandemic have also become more appreciative of life.

“Probably in all cultures and religious groups across the world, in the time of death and crisis, there is a ritual,” says Stephen Fleming, a psychology professor at Toronto’s York University. He has authored numerous articles and book chapters on grief.

“The ritual is often in the form of certain behaviours and thoughts that have symbolic meaning. When that happens, we’re able to appreciate community, we’re able to appreciate safety where we can express our emotions, and we have the realization that death has occurred.”

But during the pandemic, Fleming says, saying goodbye to loved ones over the phone instead of holding their hands as they die has made grieving far more painful.

“That kind of human compassion and attachment that’s missing can lead to someone with a monumental sense of loneliness, can lay the seeds for depression as well.”

Restrictions on funeral services in most provinces have also challenged funeral directors with how to comfort and pray with sick patients and performing end-of-life rituals.

“As funeral professionals, we meet with the family and we plan out what they’d like to do — their services, their burial, cremation. And we guide them through that process,” says David Root of the Alberta Funeral Service Association.

As families miss out on more traditional funeral practices for their loved ones, it has become more important to talk with them about coping with loss, says Root, who is also director at Pierson’s Funeral Service in Calgary.

“‘We have definitely seen families struggle with the guilt of not being able to be at their loved one’s service, their mom or dad’s … service, because they just can’t cross the U.S.-Canadian border, for example.”

Generally, Root says, funeral professionals and grief specialists working in Canada have observed that North America is a death-denying society.

“We kind of deny our own mortality and death tends to be more of a clinical experience. Individuals go to hospitals or care centers, and then pass away in those locations.

“Outside of North America, death happens more at home and with family.”

But the way Canadians view death has changed since COVID-19 hit Canada in March, Root and Fleming say.

“The families that we serve are starting to see the value of grieving and … that death is what it is. We can’t change it,” Root says.

They both say the pandemic has made Canadians more appreciative of life, because they’ve been restricted from seeing each other and talking to each other and being with people as they die.

“As a nation, I think and hope that we will retain these lessons after this vaccine is distributed,” Fleming adds.

“There’s purpose in the pain. I hope this country lets COVID inform our lives, not to define it.”

READ MORE: ‘Paralyzed by fear’: B.C. woman details anxiety, grief at Italian relief hospital

———

This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

Fakiha Baig, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

Coronavirus

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Wayne Allen's graduation photo from Chemainus Secondary School. (Photo submitted)
Brother charged with murder in Chemainus teenager’s Ontario death

Jesse James Allen stands accused in the death of Wayne Allen, a 2020 Chemainus Secondary grad

Pamela Anderson was given a Ladysmith Heritage Award for the restoration work on the Arcady Auto Court property that she purchased from her grandparents. (Pamela Anderson photo)
PHOTOS: Star-studded Ladysmith Heritage Awards honour local commitments to heritage

Barrie McDonald, Pamela Anderson, John & Luke Marston, and the Ladysmith Maritime Society recognized

Kim McGregor died in the Feb. 14 hit-and-run accident in Chemainus. (Photo submitted)
Victim identified in Valentine’s Day Chemainus hit-and-run

Kim McGregor grew up in Chemainus and had recently returned to be close to his parents

Ella Donovan with mom Tina outside Fuller Lake Arena before heading onto the ice for practice. (Photo by Don Bodger)
Young Ladysmith skater watches and waits in battle against cancer

Ella Donovan’s tumour began a tumultuous time, but community support eased the burden

The Ladysmith Museum has two new exhibits open to the public. (Cole Schisler photo)
Ladysmith museum opens up with two new exhibits

The museum is featuring Prime Predators of Vancouver Island and ‘Red Flag, Red Flag’

Dr. Bonnie Henry leaves the podium after talking about the next steps in B.C.’s COVID-19 Immunization Plan during a press conference at Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Friday, January 22, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
COVID: 589 new cases in B.C., and 7 new deaths

No new outbreaks being reported Feb. 26

RCMP say a woman turned herself in to police after hitting a pedestrian and fleeing the scene of the accident in downtown Nanaimo on Friday morning. (File photo)
Driver flees, then turns herself in after hitting pedestrian in downtown Nanaimo

RCMP say woman was struck in marked crosswalk after driver ran red light

The Canada Revenue Agency says there were 32 tax fraud convictions across the country between April 2019 and March 2020. (Pixabay)
Vancouver man sentenced to 29 months, fined $645K for tax evasion, forgery

Michael Sholz reportedly forged documents to support ineligible tax credits linked to homeownership

Then-Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson looks on as MLA Shirley Bond answers questions during a press conference at Legislature in Victoria. (Chad Hipolito / THE CANADIAN PRESS)
B.C. Liberal party to choose next leader in February 2022

Candidates have until Nov. 30 to declare whether they are running

After nearly 10 months of investigations, Mounties have made an arrest in the tripping of an elderly woman in Burnaby this past April. (RCMP handout)
VIDEO: Mounties charge suspect for tripping elderly woman near Metrotown in April

32-year-old Hayun Song is accused of causing bodily harm to an 84-year-old using her walker

British Columbia provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry arrives to view the Murals of Gratitude exhibition in Vancouver, on Friday, July 3, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Death threats mount against Dr. Bonnie Henry, sparking condemnation from Horgan, Dix

Henry has become a staple on televisions in homes across British Columbia since January 2020

Several BC Ferries sailings are cancelled Friday due to adverse weather. (Black Press Media File)
All B.C. Ferries sailings cancelled due to winds, adverse weather

Adverse weather causes cancellations across several BC Ferries routes

Bryan Adams with his mom, Jane Adams Clark, at Lions Gate Hospital. (Bryan Adams)
Bryan Adams gives shout out to North Shore hospital

The singer’s mom was in Lions Gate Hospital for care

Shoppers will be able to get their hands on signed bottles of Ryan Reynolds’ new gin at B.C. liquor stores this summer. (Twitter/Ryan Reynolds)
Ryan Reynold’s Aviation Gin autographed and coming to B.C. stores

This summer 100 bottles will be available to the public for purchase across five B.C. liquor stores

Most Read