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

RCMP crest. (Black Press Media files)
Head-on collision Jan. 14 claims one life west of Fort St. James

Jenkins said alcohol, as well as road surface conditions, have been ruled out as factors

Nechako River, Vanderhoof, B.C. (Aman Parhar/Omineca Express)
Officials keeping close tabs on Nechako River after ice jam causes area flooding

District of Vanderhoof Mayor Gerry Thiessen, though, said water levels have gone down, for now

Vanderhoof home sees water from the Nechako move up into the yard, and within hours, water was seen up to the deck. Ken Young, Vanderhoof councillor posted this photo on social media.
Mayor concerned about ice jams in the Nechako river

“We have never lived with a frozen river at this magnitude during our time in council,” mayor said.

A woman wears a face mask and shield to curb the spread of COVID-19 while walking in North Vancouver, B.C., on Wednesday, January 6, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
536 COVID cases, 7 deaths reported as B.C. finds its first case of South African variant

Henry said 69,746 people have received their first dose of the COVID vaccine.

Martin Luther King Jr. addresses the crowd during the march on Washington, D.C., in August of 1963. Courtesy photo
Government announces creation of B.C.’s first anti-racism act on Black Shirt Day

B.C. Ministers say education “a powerful tool” in the fight for equity and equality

Jobs Minister Ravi Kahlon shared a handwritten note his son received on Jan. 13, 2021. (Ravi Kahlon/Twitter)
Proud dad moment: B.C. minister’s son, 10, receives handwritten note for act of kindness

North Delta MLA took to Twitter to share a letter his son received from a new kid at school

Black Press media file
Port McNeill driver tells police he thought the pandemic meant no breathalyzers

Suspect facing criminal charges after breathalyzer readings in excess of 3.5 times the legal limit

Forestry companies in B.C. agree to abide by the cedar protocols based on traditional laws of the First Nation members of the Nanwakolas Council. (Photo courtesy, Nanwakolas Council)
Landmark deal sees B.C. forest firms treat big cedars like a First Nation would

Western Forest Products, Interfor among companies to adapt declaration drafted by Nanwakolas Council

A northern resident killer whale shows injuries sustained by a collision with a vessel in B.C. waters. (Photo supplied by Ocean Wise Conservation Association)
Coast Guard ramps up protections for B.C. whales

First-ever Marine Mammal Desk will enhance cetacean reporting and enforcement

Two toucans sit on tree at an unidentified zoo. (Pixabay.com)
BC SPCA calls for ban on exotic animal trade after 50 parrots, toucans pass through YVR

One toucan was found dead and several others were without food

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau listens to a question during a news conference outside Rideau cottage in Ottawa, Friday, January 8, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Trudeau says Canada’s COVID vaccine plan on track despite Pfizer cutting back deliveries

Canadian officials say country will still likely receive four million doses by the end of March

Most Read