Many turning to online grief counselling as Covid-19 claims loved ones
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Johannesburg - In the era of social distancing, the inability to gather and mourn the loss of a loved one has seen many South Africans turn to online grief counselling to help them deal with the loss.
With a drastic increase in deaths over the last few months due to the global Covid-19 pandemic, grief counsellors in the country have been inundated with calls from South Africans needing desperate help to overcome the loss of a loved one.
One group, GriefShare, has been hard at work.
The internationally renowned grief support and sharing group, which started in the US, now has a presence in South Africa.
While the group counselling is normally held at the St Charles Catholic Church in Victory Park, the Covid-19 pandemic had forced the organisation to go online.
South African founder, Coralie Deas , says many South Africans have turned to GriefShare.
“In difficult times we naturally seek out people who can support us and listen to our stories. Although people are minimising contact with strangers and loved ones, we are able to still provide the support and encouragement online,” said Deas.
“The participants of each cycle support each other during the cycle as well as long after the cycle ends. Many real long-lasting friendships have formed because of the mutual support.
“It is normal for mourners to experience feelings of extreme isolation. When Covid-19 preventative measures of physical isolation are added to this and the comfort of conciliatory gatherings with family members and friends removed, or reduced to a brief and restricted funeral gathering, the pain can become almost unbearable.
“The bereaved need to talk about their loss to sympathetic listeners who really pay attention.”
Deas says the physical isolation and preventative measures for Covid-19 had made it near impossible for South Africans to be able to grieve properly.
GriefShare has tried to fill that gap.
“How a loved one dies has a great effect on the grief recovery journey of the friends and family that remain,” said Dias.
“In cases where people who are hospitalised and die of Covid-19 related complications, the nearest and dearest are denied the chance to say their final goodbyes etc. They are not even allowed to visit the patient in hospital.
“This has a knock-on effect that survivors have escalated feelings of anger towards the medical staff, the virus, the government, and the situation itself.
“Guilt is also increased because of decisions that must be made and which are out of the survivor’s control. The unexpectedness of the nature of deaths from the virus has also led to an increase in apportionment of blame. The GriefShare programme provides participants a refuge for guidance and support in these difficult times.”
Deas started a GriefShare group in 2014 after the death of her brother.
“I started this effective recovery programme in our parish of St Charles. During Covid 19, I also lost my half-sister, who lived in Zimbabwe, and I was unable to travel to see her or attend the funeral.”
Lesley Callow, a facilitator, also joined the group after facing her own personal grief journey.
“The loss of my husband in 2008 left me feeling lost, alone and searching for answers,” said Callow.
“My search led me to GriefShare where I found clarity, and people who understood my journey and challenges; facilitators who also understood the grief recovery journey and helpful information, tips, and tools to help me cope.
“After my recovery , I decided it was time to pay it forward and joined GriefShare as a facilitator.”
GriefShare, according to Callow, is a safe, non-judgemental support and sharing group for people who have lost a loved one to death.
While the programme is run out of a church, GriefShare is open to all faiths, says Callow.
“Each cycle of 13 weeks guides participants on a personal grief recovery journey by focusing on weekly topics such as “Is this normal”, guilt, anger, forgiveness, and the way forward. During each week participants watch a video and are welcome to partake in small discussion groups focusing on the topic of that week.
“Each group is led by trained facilitators who themselves have experienced the loss of a loved one. Each participant receives a printed manual that helps to sustain support and momentum between sessions. This manual contains interesting articles as well as daily reflection exercises which all contribute to the recovery journey.
“Although the cycle is officially only 13 weeks, at St Charles Catholic church we run an additional introduction session during which we orientate participants with the online platform, the weekly process and allow time for initial introductions etc.”
Callow adds that the programme is designed to help people deal with different kinds of grief.
“People in grief really want to talk about their lost loved one, their grief journey and their challenges. GriefShare provides a safe environment to do all of this with people who know and understand the emotions and difficulties along the way. Many participants benefit so much from the process that they return to repeat the cycle and complete their healing.”
GriefShare offers three different programmes: the 13-week GriefShare programme, the loss of a spouse or life partner, and even a surviving the holidays programme.
“This is another once-off event providing the bereaved with inspiration to cope with the additional challenges that the festive season brings,” said Deas.
Since going online, Callow and Deas says they’ve reached a far wider audience.
“Before the pandemic participants were restricted by proximity to the meeting venue at the church,” said Deas.
“However since we have been online, geography has become irrelevant. In recent cycles we have had international participants join our group online. The biggest change we had to make during the pandemic was moving from in room face to face sessions to online sessions. The videos are now watched by participants during the week rather than during the session previously.”
Asked what advice they could give to those that are battling with the loss of a loved one, Deas said: ”First and foremost know that everyone experiences grief differently and so, what you are experiencing is totally normal.”
“This means that you should be kind to yourself and not judge your journey against any other friends or members of their family. Each journey is unique.”