Death During COVID-19

Joel Axler, M.D. is a board-certified child, adolescent and adult psychiatrist with experience building effective integrated physical-mental health care solutions. Dr. Axler has developed and deployed innovative strategies to enhance member engagement and motivation in order to improve adherence with treatment, leading to better quality of life for individuals and their families. He is a volunteer and contributor for the Blue Dove Foundation, whose mission is to raise awareness, end the stigma and educate people about mental illness and addiction through a Jewish lens. If you or someone you know is struggling with either mental illness or addiction, please contact the National Alliance on Mental Illness o learn about local resources, or visit the Blue Dove Foundation for other resources.


In light of today’s circumstances, we wanted to acknowledge grief and mourning that is associated with loss – something many today are sadly dealing with alone.

One of the most important psychological studies on social connection grew out of Dr. Kübler-Ross’s philosophy on death, life, and transition. On Death and Dying explores the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Through sample interviews and conversations, she gives readers an understanding of how imminent death affects the patient, the professionals who serve that patient, and the patient’s family – ultimately bringing hope to all who are involved.

Grief is a personal and unique emotion. Everyone presents and handles it differently. The emotional wellbeing and importance of social connection are paramount to supporting those in mourning. Today, with many community members self-isolated, it can be difficult to recognize those who are struggling and in need of support.  Moreover, with the progression of COVID-19, as well as loss unrelated to the pandemic, organizations are starting to hear more stories of loss from their members and their families – and are challenged with how to support them through these times. Indeed, a death in the organization can feel like a death in the family. Whether sudden or expected, it can be traumatic for members and leaders alike. The following information may help navigate the needs of your organization and members when experiencing the loss of a member or their loved one.

Given the physical distancing mandates, it has been difficult to hold traditional funeral and memorial services. Once an intimate process, many such services are occurring virtually. In the midst of heartbreak of the coronavirus pandemic and the need to keep social distance, we are now faced with being alone, unable to reach out and comfort those who mourn, standing a careful six feet from each other. There is no shiva or ability for daily kaddish to be held or gathering of family and friends to honor our loved ones–mothers, fathers, grandparents, spouses, brothers, sisters, children or friends– who are victims of the coronavirus pandemic.

Although not a replacement for in-person gatherings, it is important that we connect with each other to mourn and share condolences.  Video conferencing, through Zoom, Skype, or another platform, is encouraged – seeing people adds a level of connection during times of isolation.

When faced with grief and loss, some may find it difficult to reach out for help and support.  It can be crucial for others to take the initiative and reach out to those who are hurting. Show empathy and compassion, be open and honest about how grief is different during this pandemic. Above all: listen. Frequent check-ins with close friends and family may help more than you know.

As leaders: encourage members to take time to grieve, even if they are sheltering in place.  Community members may feel that they cannot or should not take time to grieve if they are working at home or have other personal commitments.  When remote, it is more difficult to separate work and life, so be sure to encourage them to find a balance.

In the case of losing a community member, you must ensure people take time to remember them. Sharing pictures and fond memories — reminders of happier times spent with them – will allow a community to grieve and heal together. Even if not physically present, emotional, spiritual, intellectual presence will go a long way. We need that kind of relationship and connection.

There are many other beautiful ways to honor those who have passed. Consider asking community members to write letters (to both the deceased as a cathartic exercise or their families as emotional support.)  Other customs include lighting candles in their honor, planting a tree, creating a memorial collage, or donating to a cherished charity.

Please see below a list of books that can help in times of sorrow:

  • Mishkan Aveilut: Where Grief Resides, Eric Weiss
  • Mishkan R’fuah: Where Healing Resides, Eric Weiss and Shira Stern
  • On Death and Dying, Dr. Kübler-Ross
  • Tuesdays with Morrie, Mitch Albom
  • Bearing the Unbearable, Joanne Cacciatore
  • Permission to Mourn: A New Way to Do Grief, Tom Zuba
  • Healthy Healing: A Guide to Working Out Grief Using the Power of Exercise and Endorphins, Michelle Steinke-Baumgard
  • Finding Your Way through Grief: A Guide for the First Year, Marty Tousley
  • Grieving Mindfully, Dr. Sameet Kumar
  • Transforming Traumatic Grief, Courtney Armstrong
  • The Grief Recovery Handbook, The Action Program for Moving Beyond Death, Divorce, and Other Losses including Health, Career, and Faith, John W James and Russell Friedman
  • Four Funerals and a Wedding: Resilience in a Time of Grief, Jill Smolowe
  • Retired, Rewired, Living without Adult Supervision in Bali, Cat Wheeler
  • A Healing Hug for Alzheimer’s Caregivers, Elizabeth Postle

There are also resources available with trained professionals who can assist you:

  • Contact your EAP and/or behavioral health provider.
  • Contact your local NAMI Affiliate.
  • Contact National Hospice and Palliative Care Association, which has lists local hospices that can provide free or sliding scale grief therapy.
  • Grief Share hosts free, in-person grief recovery support groups across the country
  • net offers an online directory of resources and information to help people coping with the loss of a loved one by suicide.

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