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

Agassiz resident Miel Bernstein is collecting sanitary products for locals in need. These products came from her donation drive before Christmas and were delivered to people in need in Chilliwack and Agassiz. (Contributed)
Agassiz resident collecting pads, tampons for women in need

The program will help provide menstrual and incontinence products for people in Chilliwack, Agassiz

(THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette)
Seabird Island to receive COVID-19 vaccine in the coming weeks

All members 18 years and older will be eligible to be vaccinated

Prolific offender Jonathan David Olson (left) and Brodie Tyrel Robinson, both of Chilliwack, were convicted of several offences in BC Supreme Court in August 2019 in connection to a crime spree on the Canada Day long weekend in 2017.
Chilliwack gangster sentenced to 11.5 years in prison for 2017 crime spree

Jonathan Olson involved in shooting a fellow crime associate in the head

Pete Ryan, known all over the world for his chainsaw carvings, died on Friday, Jan. 8. He was 70 years old. (Contributed Photo/Dignity Memorial)
Iconic Hope chainsaw carver Pete Ryan has passed away

Ryan is a founding member of Hope’s famous chainsaw carving community

Screenshot from video.
2 students arrested in assault of transgender girl at Mission middle school

Mother said daughter was targeted because of how she identifies

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. find its first case of South African variant

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

Alan Davidson was sentenced to almost six years for abusing seven boys in the late 1970s and early 1990s. (Canadian Press file)
Full parole granted to former Mountie, sports coach convicted of sex abuse of boys

Alan Davidson convicted of abusing boys in B.C. and Saskatchewan in late ’70s, early ’90s

Letisha Reimer died Nov. 1, 2016 after being stabbed at Abbotsford Senior Secondary.
No evidence that killer was in ‘psychotic state’ during Abbotsford school stabbing: Crown

Second day of closing arguments at ‘not criminally responsible’ hearing for Gabriel Klein

The first COVID-19 vaccine arrives in B.C. in temperature-controlled containers, Dec. 13, 2020. (B.C. government)
More vaccine arrives as B.C. struggles with remote COVID-19 cases

Long-term care homes remain focus for public health

The first Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine dose in Canada is prepared at The Michener Institute in Toronto on Monday, Dec. 14, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
Doses of COVID-19 vaccine expected in 60 B.C. First Nations by next week

B.C. has allocated 25,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccine to First Nations for distribution by the end of February

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good
Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Kamloops-South Thompson MLA Todd Stone questions the NDP government in the B.C. legislature, Feb. 25, 2020. (Hansard TV)
Todd Stone says he’s not running for B.C. Liberal leadership

Kamloops MLA was widely viewed as a front-runner

Wireless voice and data services are out for those on Telus as of Thursday (Jan. 14) afternoon across Western Canada, Telus Support said in a recent Tweet. (Black Press file photo)
UPDATE: Telus services restored across Western Canada

Telus said they are monitoring the situation to ensure connections remain stable

Most Read