mother daughter
Brittany Hambleton
Brittany Hambleton
December 31, 2023 ·  7 min read

My Sweet, Beautiful Daughter Just Died, And I Don’t Know How I’m Supposed To Grieve

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected many aspects of our lives. It has changed the way we do run-of-the-mill errands like picking up groceries. It has changed the way our kids go to school. It has changed the way we work, the way we socialize, and the way we celebrate special occasions like birthdays.

Perhaps one of the most difficult, hard-to-accept ways that this virus has impacted our lives is that it has fundamentally changed the way we grieve

Because of stay-at-home orders and social distancing rules, we can no longer visit our loved ones in the hospital. We can’t hold their hands and comfort them as they take their final breaths. We can’t have those final moments of closure, we can’t hold proper memorial services, funerals, or celebrations of life. We can’t come together and mourn, reminisce, or support one another. We are now left to grieve alone.

“I Don’t Know How I’m Supposed to Grieve”

Mary Hagen Roberts lost her beloved daughter, Laura, on April 23, 2020. The 33-year-old teacher, rock-climber, and craft beer-lover had finally lost her battle with diffuse gastric cancer.

In early April, she had developed some of the trademark symptoms of the novel coronavirus: shortness of breath, fever, and cough. She was hospitalized and classified as “presumptive COVID-19”, and was alone in her room, with no one but the harried nurses to look after her. Not even the doctors would come into her room, instead, checking on her by calling, or talking to her through a glass window. 

She was finally permitted to return home on April 12, with supplemental oxygen and occasional home care visits. She had a few good days upon her return home, and she was able to continue doing some of the things that she loved, but within the week her condition began to deteriorate.

After bronchoscopy on April 20, Laura found out the real reason behind her shortness of breath. It was not the coronavirus, but instead because her cancer had spread into her lungs. The doctors gave her one month to live without aggressive treatment.

Three days later, Laura passed away in the arms of her fiance, Brett. Hagen Roberts, who was making the four-hour drive to be by her daughter’s side, was only minutes too late. She had not been able to be there for her daughter during the last few weeks of her life, and she had not been able to be there to hold her hand as she took her final breaths.

Hagen Roberts is now left to mourn her daughter but has no idea how to do it.

“Tell me how to grieve when we are not permitted to have a funeral or memorial service, when the precious body of my child disappears into the back of a repurposed funeral home minivan, never to be seen again.” [1]

All of the rituals of mourning that we, as a society, have come to rely on, are no longer available to her. As a 64-year old who is immunocompromised because of Addison’s disease, she has to be extremely cautious with how much interaction she has with others.

She cannot go see her family- her grandsons, her brothers, and sisters- that live a thousand miles away. She can’t go to her daughter’s favorite brewpub and reminisce with her friends and loved ones about Laura’s brief but wonderful life. She can’t hold a proper service or funeral to honor her properly.

“I wake up every morning and go to bed every night with this hole in my heart, and I don’t know how I’ll move forward.” [1] 

Grieving During a Pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has created a new reality for all of us that is marked by loss and grief. Not only are millions of people all over the world losing loved ones to the virus, but there is a collective sense of grief, as we all try to figure out how to navigate the strange new world we are living in.

“We are all dealing with the collective loss of the world we knew,” explained grief expert David Kessler [2].

We, as a global society, are mourning the loss of lives, the loss of normalcy, the loss of social connectedness, and the loss of our regular routines that we previously took for granted. Even the anticipation or fear of what is to come can trigger grief.

The pandemic has also changed how we navigate grief and loss, and the inability to follow the normal traditions to support the grieving process has made coping even more difficult. After the loss of a loved one, you may experience feelings of guilt because you were not able to be there with them during their final days and moments. 

Because you are unable to engage in the usual traditions involved in saying goodbye to a loved one, you may be struggling with a lack of closure and a loss of tradition. 

Even during the best of times, grief can be a very isolating experience, but social isolation rules have exacerbated the feeling of loneliness even more. People are forced to grieve alone, cut off from their social support networks during a time when they need them the most [2].

Diana Robinson, founder, and CEO of Celebrations of Life Toronto memorial planning company has been focussing on how to help families during this time who have been disproportionately affected because of the death of a friend or family member. 

“Social distancing has restricted grieving families from paying tribute to their lost loved ones, which is a very important part of the grieving process — adding another layer of grief and stress on their mental health,” she said [3].

Her profession has now emerged as frontline workers and has been preparing for the onslaught of deaths since the pandemic began.

Grieving Advice During a Pandemic

If you or someone you know is grieving during this pandemic, there are a few strategies you can use to help you work through your pain, or support your loved one as they grapple with loss.

It is important, first of all, to acknowledge that grieving is more challenging right now than usual. Refrains like “I should be doing better than this” or “I am failing to keep it together”, do not acknowledge the additional stress that is associated with a global health crisis, and run the risk of casting self-blame for things that are not within our control. It is important to practice compassion, both for yourself and your loved ones, and to understand that the grieving process is going to look different, and may even take longer, during these difficult circumstances [4].

Staying connected, in whatever way we can, is also incredibly important during this time. Often, when we are mourning, mustering up the emotional energy to reach out to friends and family can be difficult, so try to schedule times to have phone calls or virtual chats with friends and family.

If you have a loved one who you know is struggling to cope, it is important to check in on them regularly, since they may be having a hard time reaching out for help.

“The lesson is to keep checking in on people, and keep the support going even after this period of lockdown ends,” says  Erika Felix, PhD, a psychologist at the University of California, Santa Barbara [5].

R. Benyamin Cirlin, a licensed clinical social worker and executive director of the Center for Loss and Renewal, says that while it can be difficult, the best thing you can do when you are trying to support someone who is grieving is to simply listen.

“It can be really hard to listen to a grieving person, because there’s no solution,” Cirlin says. “So, it is really about a willingness to be to open and to validate the person.” [6

Alternating between “loss” and “restorative” activities can also help you to acknowledge your grief while also finding ways to move forward. Loss activities could include looking at photos of the deceased, crying, and talking about the person. Restorative activities include making plans for the future or engaging in hobbies [4].

It is important to open opportunities for positive feelings in some way, and while that can be difficult now more than ever, it is important that we are kind to ourselves and to each other, that we support each other as much as we possibly can, and that we reach out to someone when we need help.

Keep Reading: After her husband died from COVID-19, she found an emotional goodbye note on his phone