Experiencing a loss is always difficult, but during a pandemic its possible to experience multiple losses all at once. 2020 was a hard year for everyone as most people experienced a loss of some sort, whether it be the loss of a job, school, social interaction, the gym, a favorite restaurant or a loved one, or any combination of these losses. With so many losses happening at the same time, it could worsen feelings of despair. While 2020 may be over, it’s aftereffects are still felt in 2021 as the pandemic rages on, and for Arizonans, the Coronavirus is spreading quickly.
What are the implications of the pandemic on the dying process?
Due to isolation efforts aimed to slow the spread of infection, people are dying without loved ones by their side, at home, in their facility, or in the hospital. Hospice nurses, aides, social workers, and chaplains are needed even more now to keep the spirits of families high and comfort those dying in lieu of their family’s absence. But even hospices’ ability to care for the dying are being affected when having to reduce visits to lessen the likelihood of spreading the virus.
When all of this is happening at once and it feels like the world is off kilter, what can we do to bring peace to the dying and comfort to their families?
It will take an all-in approach in comfort to ensure a peaceful dying process for both the family and patient. Elder-care facilities, hospitals and hospices have a greater responsibility to connect the dying person with their families any way they can. When in-person visits aren’t permitted, technology is connecting families with their loved ones all around the world. One of the most important comforts at the bedside of someone passing is tactile comfort: the comfort of a hand being held, a gentle hug, or a kiss on the forehead. However, when avoiding the spread of disease, tactile interaction is of the first things to go. When technology is all we have to connect to others, families should try to utilize nursing staff to videocall them while nurses are at the bedside. Even if the loved one is already non-responsive, seeing them can be therapeutic for families, especially to say one’s last goodbye. Non-responsive doesn’t mean they can’t hear or feel what their loved ones are trying to convey. Renowned expert on the dying process, Barbara Karnes, writes in a recent article: “Their world is like a dream. Everything is out of focus, disconnected, from afar.” (Karnes, 2020). They may not be able to respond, but they can still hear the goodbye and feel the love evoked in their loved one’s voice.
If a videocall or phone call is not possible, and goodbyes cannot be outwardly expressed, it’s still important to release goodbye out into the cosmos, in hopes it can span the distance and separation and still be felt. Family members should find a quiet place to retreat into one’s own mind, envisioning being at the bedside of their loved one, holding their hand, sharing past memories, saying one last goodbye from afar. Take comfort in beliefs. Barbara Karnes goes on to write, “This goes beyond what I know to what I have come to believe: We do not die alone. In the moments to hours, even days, before death there is often talk to or about those that have died before us.” (Karnes, 2020). If you believe that the souls of those who have already passed still exist, then believe that those souls are welcoming the soul of your loved one. While you may not be there to say goodbye, believe that someone is there to say hello.
Karnes, Barbara. (2020, May 1st). “Stories of the COVID Crisis” https://bkbooks.com/blogs/media