Saying ‘No’ to Grief
Covid, Loss and Kübler-Ross
Often when meeting with a bereaved family I tell them that my answer to any request they have to make is ‘Yes’. This is not just an opening gambit to help them see past the dog collar I wear, but a genuine desire on my part to let them know that I am with them to help them tend their grief. It is not my task or calling to impose on them a pre-packaged ritual that is my preferred way or the Church’s set form for the tending of grief. As those who walk with the grieving, the word they need to hear from us from death to cremation, burial and beyond is always ‘Yes’.
In an era of Covid we have we been forced into a situation where the first words we have to say is ‘No’! No, we can’t meet in person to make arrangements. No, you may not touch the casket as you leave the chapel. No, you may not sing (even if it is quietly behind a face covering). No, you can’t invite everyone to attend the ceremony and even the number we say now may be less when we finally come to the day of the service. No, your preferred minister or celebrant cannot take the service as they are vulnerable and shielding.
Being involved with the care of those who grieve we are aware of the need to tend our own grief as well. But we can’t even do that as there are other ‘Nos’ that we have to tell ourselves. No, I can’t shake hands as the mourners leave the service. No, I can’t follow the command of Scripture and ‘Weep with those who weep’. No, I will no longer have the privilege of cleaning my robes after a grieving person has cried her tears into their fabric and into my heart. No, I can’t join you afterwards to remember a life with food and drink. No, no, no…
I am tired of saying ‘No’ to the grief of those broken souls who have been entrusted into my care and it hurts like crazy.
Of all the things that Covid has stolen perhaps the most precious is our ability to share grief. Coping with Covid has been about coping with the common grief of our community, our nation and the whole human race. When everyone we meet is undergoing corporate grief this becomes challenging and wearing. Most of us have explored the grief process first outlined by Elizabeth Kübler-Ross in her Five Stages of Grief and our response to Covid has mirrored those stages of Denial · Anger · Bargaining · Depression · Acceptance.
- We have seen people Deny the existence of Covid and so put them and their families at greater risk.
- Many have been Angered by the restrictions Covid brings and so refuse to comply endangering others in the process,
- We have made Bargains over the conditions imposed upon us – 2 metres space or 1 metre + with a face covering – which we then bargain over even more.
- There is strong evidence of clinical Depression amongst those who have had Covid and an ever-growing shadow as we realise that it will be decades before we finally recover from this.
- As we move to the future and realise that Covid like other diseases is endemic, we are working towards, finally, Acceptance.
When we care for the dead and the bereaved our task has always been to help bring them to a place of acceptance. To borrow a phrase from the Covid Dictionary of Life, our task is about helping people find their way to a ‘new’ normal. This is hard enough in ordinary times but to find normality amongst abnormality takes a deeper kind of love than we may be used to giving. This has been exhausting and many of our colleagues are weary and worn down. Thankfully it seems that the tide is turning and we may soon be able to say ‘yes’ to the grief of those we care for again. Until then we must be more diligent in caring for each other and find new ways of showing appreciation. We must be gentle, for we do not know the battles each of us are facing. And above all else we must be kind.
[Rev Canon Andrew Dotchin is Vicar of St John the Baptist Felixstowe and represents the General Synod of the Church of England on the Churches Funeral Group.]
 This article was first published in the Summer 2021 edition of ‘Pharos’. The official journal of the Cremation Society of Great Britain. Find out more about their work at www.cremation.org.uk
 Much has been done since Kübler-Ross’s ground-breaking work. A description of which can be found here. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Five_stages_of_grief.