The human grief process and the act of grieving may have been put on hold for many people during the COVID-19 pandemic, or it may have intensified emotions for some. Either way, the Prince Rupert Hospice Society is concerned for those who have had to face grief alone during the recent times, or who have had little support through a difficult grieving period.
“There is a lot of grieving going on in the community and it’s silent because people are not talking about it,” Connie Munson, hospice grief coordinator for more than 10 years said.
“There is more grief than the loss of ‘someone’. There is the loss of jobs and income. The loss of our world – the way it existed before and the way it exists now. It’s (COVID-19) like it is an invisible threat that we are dealing with. It causes a lot of grief and emotions. There may be a long term effect for many,” Munson said.
COVID-19 has made it very difficult for hospice to run their programs, which are necessary to support those individuals and families who are going through end of life times. The pandemic has made the one-on-one care and face-to-face support, services usually offered and what hospice is known for, virtually impossible, Judy Riddel president of Hospice, said.
Prince Rupert Hospice Society relies on volunteers for program enactment and connecting with members of the community. Volunteers are fully trained and take over 30 hours of initial education just to get started. They can continue on with further training as circumstances permit.
The non-profit organization has four compassion and care program avenues which are offered to the Prince Rupert community, where each volunteer can become involved.
The palliative care program is for people who are entering their final days, either at home, in hospital or at Acropolis Manor. Volunteers visit to comfort the patients and families. The visiting companionship program is for patients who are in a long term care situation and in need of visits. Family support can also be provided with volunteers offering some relief for families, or caregivers to attend their own appointments, do groceries or just for some time away.
The grief support program offers understanding and comfort after a loved one passes in a compassionate group setting. Personal situations, with others who are experiencing similar issues, can be shared. The promotion of advance care planning is also provided by Hospice. This enables individuals to make end of life decision plans for themselves in the circumstance they can not communicate their wishes at the end of life.
With the pandemic restrictions, distancing protocols and strict hospital rules for patient visitors, hospice has had to reluctantly step back from it’s role in the community. The hospice office is located in the Prince Rupert Regional Hospital, so staff and volunteers are in the know and in the throw of things on a regular day. Working from home has left volunteers and staff at hospice feeling some disconnect throughout the days of COVID-19.
“For the initial period we had to withdraw significantly,” Riddel said. “Definitely there were no more face-to-face visits.”
To be able to maintain contact during COVID-19 with long term care patients who require hospice visits, the use of Ipads or tablets has been facilitated for virtual face-to-face meetings so volunteers and families can check in with clients. This procedure has been very welcomed by the patients who long for visits and companionship, Munson said.
Usually, hospice staff would be available to sit with the patient and family to offer comfort, however with COVID-19 they can not step in to assist the patient, except in extenuating circumstances when they are asked by medical staff, such as when there is no family and the patient is alone.
“At the very end of life, where there’s only one or two or three days remaining, we attempt to do vigils and support the family in doing so” Munson said.
Once a patient passes away, hospice is ready with grief support and programs if requested. During COVID-19, Munson said she has kept in touch with grieving individuals and families by telephone, but it is extremely difficult to offer comfort from a distance. A group of clients is ready to start the next ‘Journey Through Grief’ support group session, but the program has had to be delayed.
“We are just not sure that a zoom support group or even a physically distanced support group is ideal. It’s just not the way we roll in support groups. It is too impersonal when you can’t give a hug once in a while, so that has been put on hold for now.”
“Funeral information is one of the things that we help with and support families through,” Riddel said. “People come to us asking what do we do? Like, where do we go? Who do we ask questions to? How do we organize their funerals and so forth? The hospice volunteers can help by allowing them to discuss these things.”
“I see an increased need for grief support in our community, especially with all the grieving that goes on with COVID and all the people who’ve passed away recently. There have been fewer celebrations of life and memorials. Some things have been on hold. Even someone’s grief might be on hold or stuck,” Munson said.
“What it does, and when you lose someone and you have these services, it identifies you in the community as ‘I’ve just lost someone and I need some special care and attention,” Munson said.
“Everything seems to be so quiet now. Somebody passes away and goes, there is nothing – something may happen at a later date. I think that is going to cause people to be stuck in their grief. It’s going to be complicated.”
For information about grief groups and grief support, members of the public can call the Hospice office at 250 622 6204 or can email at: email@example.com