Distance shouldn't mean we can't share our grief

As a Rainbow Trust Family Support Worker, I sometimes attend the funerals of children I have supported.

I know the importance of public mourning rituals; they occur in nearly all cultures. They help people to cope in a meaningful way. But these communal rituals have been changed by coronavirus.

During the pandemic and subsequent lockdowns, I was aware that at some point I may not be able to offer a family support by attending their child’s funeral in person. The desire people have to be in community with each other when they are grieving hasn’t changed.

Sadly, I have supported families through their child’s death and their own grief during the pandemic. I remember being alone in my sitting room attending the funeral of a lovely young man I had supported during his long battle with cancer. It was live streamed for extended family and friends. I felt a sense of helplessness as I watched the heartbreak of his close family.

In this moment, I was aware that there would be family members and close friends who could not attend in person. I wondered how this may feel for them. I knew they must have wanted to be with their family at this difficult time. I was aware that this event will awaken other losses. I wondered if they had someone to support them? If they would have time to reflect and process their feelings? I also felt thankful that we all had this opportunity to come together in remembrance and respect for someone who had touched all our lives.

The next time I saw the family, Mum started to talk to me about the day of the funeral. I was able to reflect with her because I had been there. In that moment I realised that showing up doesn’t need to be something we do in person, sometimes it can be more than this. I had honoured the memory of her son and for her this was enough.

After a funeral, comfort can continue with private rituals. These could be the smallest of things, remembering a birthday, lighting a candle, planting their loved ones favourite flowers or making a memory box. These are meaningful moments that take place over years. As I look back over my time with Rainbow Trust I know that this is often when families turn to me. When time has passed and others have moved on. I am there to remember with them. I am never afraid to say their child’s name, I know they are always in the family’s thoughts.

I may be physically detached while I attend a funeral virtually, but in attending I make the family aware that I will show up for them, I will honour their child and I can be trusted to be there for them in future rituals which will bring them comfort and continue to acknowledge a loved one who is gone but never forgotten.