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

City of Nanaimo’s council chambers, the Shaw Auditorium at the Vancouver Island Conference Centre. (News Bulletin file photo)
LETTER TO THE EDITOR: City council should save Nanaimo before trying to save planet

City councillors aren’t at the G7 table, they represent a small B.C. city, says letter writer

Terry Keogh, an RDN Transit driver, used his paramedic skills the morning of Jan. 22 after coming across an unconscious woman along his route in downtown Nanaimo. (RDN Transit photo)
RDN Transit driver stops his bus and helps get overdosing woman breathing again

Former EMT from Ireland performed CPR on a woman in downtown Nanaimo on Friday

Peter Crema and Harmony Gray (from left), past participants of the Nanaimo Art Gallery’s Code Switching teen art group, at work in ArtLab in 2019. The NAG will be expanding the space thanks to a $75,000 arts infrastructure program grant. (Bulletin file photo)
Nanaimo Art Gallery, Nanaimo Aboriginal Centre receive new arts infrastructure funding

Province announces recipients of funding through B.C. Arts Council program

Angela Waldick is the new team photographer for the Nanaimo NightOwls. (Nanaimo NightOwls photo)
Half-blind photographer will help Nanaimo’s new baseball team look picture-perfect

NightOwls announce partnership with Angela Waldick of Nightengales Photography

Emergency crews were called to a crash involving a hatchback and a taxi minivan at the intersection of Fitzwilliam, Pine and Third streets on Friday afternoon. (Greg Sakaki/News Bulletin)
Driver hurt as taxi and hatchback crash in Nanaimo

Collision happened Friday at intersection of Fitzwilliam, Pine and Third streets

Thursday, Jan. 28, 2021 is International Lego Day. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of Jan. 24 to 30

Lego Day, Talk Like a Grizzled Prospector Day and Puzzle Day are all coming up this week

FILE - In this Nov. 20, 2017, file photo, Larry King attends the 45th International Emmy Awards at the New York Hilton, in New York. Former CNN talk show host King has been hospitalized with COVID-19 for more than a week, the news channel reported Saturday, Jan. 2, 2021. CNN reported the 87-year-old King contracted the coronavirus and was undergoing treatment at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. (Photo by Andy Kropa/Invision/AP, File)
Larry King, broadcasting giant for half-century, dies at 87

King conducted an estimated 50,000 on-air interviews

Comox Valley RCMP are looking for witnesses after the theft of a generator worth thousands of dollars. Photo supplied
RCMP asking Vancouver Island residents to watch for stolen generator

Vehicle may have been travelling on Highway 19

BC Coroners Service is currently investigating a death at Canoe Cove Marina and Boatyard in North Saanich. (Black Press Media File)
Drowning death in North Saanich likely B.C.’s first in for 2021

Investigation into suspected drowning Monday night continues

Kimberly Proctor, 18, was murdered in 2010. Her family has spent many of the years since pushing for a law in her honour, that they say would help to prevent similar tragedies. (Courtesy of Jo-Anne Landolt)
Proposed law honouring murdered B.C. teen at a standstill, lacks government support

Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions has concerns with involuntary detainment portion of act

Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam speaks during a daily briefing in Ottawa. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld)
31 cases of COVID-19 variants detected in Canada: Health officials

Dr. Theresa Tam made announces 13 more variant COVID-19 cases in Canada

Daily COVID-19 cases reported to each B.C. health region, to Jan. 20, 2021. Island Health in blue, Northern Health green, Interior Health orange, Vancouver Coastal in red and Fraser Health in purple. (B.C. Centre for Disease Control)
B.C.’s COVID-19 infection rate stays stable with 508 cases Friday

Vaccine delivered to more than 110,000 high-risk people

Black Press file photo
Investigation at remote burned-out Vancouver Island cabin reveals human remains

Identity of victim not released, believed to be the owner of an SUV vehicle found parked nearby

Nanaimo City Hall. (News Bulletin file photo)
City of Nanaimo councillors like new sustainable buying policy

Finance and audit committee recommends council approve new procurement policy

Most Read