Pandemic restrictions on funerals can add extra layer of grief for those mourning loved ones: psychologist

Brenda Meneghetti was bracing for the worst after leaving her dad at the hospital in late November.

“I had to walk out emergency and leave him there, knowing I would probably never see him again,” the Calgary woman said.

Eighty-nine-year-old Pat Walsh died of pneumonia at the end of November. Leading up to his death, he wasn’t allowed visitors for three days. At the time of his passing, limited family members were allowed in the room, but Meneghetti was a close contact of a positive COVID-19 case and couldn’t be.

Read more: Funeral homes struggle with COVID-19 restrictions: ‘It’s in our heart to want to serve people’

“I had to say goodbye to my dad over the phone,” she said.

Grieving is painful enough, but Meneghetti said planning a funeral to meet guidelines is an extra burden. Services are limited to 10 people. It’s an impossible decision on who to invite.

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“We are a big Irish, Catholic family,” Meneghetti said. “It’s (usually) a big mass graveside service, relatives (coming) from out of town, lots of Scotch, lots of cigars, lots of great food, memories and stories… But none of that can happen.

“We are drained. We are exhausted and trying to maneuver through what should be so easy. Walking into the church… normally there is a book and forms you fill out, pick the songs, the readings… We are trying to understand the requirement for a Roman Catholic burial that meets dad’s wishes.”

Read more: Funeral homes struggle with COVID-19 restrictions: ‘It’s in our heart to want to serve people’

The family has decided to postpone a service until restrictions are lifted.

“Like so many things, it just has to be delayed for the safety of everybody, but it doesn’t make it easy,” Meneghetti said.

“I think we are trying to wrap our heads around is… (it’s not that we’re) not honouring him, we are just not honouring him today.”

It’s still important to do some of the ceremony now, she said.

“In the Catholic church, there is a funeral right at the end of mass, and there is a graveside service,” Meneghetti said. “We are modifying these two at the gravesite — not doing the church and having some family members stay in their cars so they can be there and see what is going on.

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“When we go away they can approach the casket,” she said.

Meneghetti hopes her experience will put how the novel coronavirus affects everyone into perspective.

“The experience we are dealing with, the funeral, the experience we are dealing with the no visitation for three days… Those are experiences every single Albertan can have in their family, whether they are sick with COVID(-19) or not.”

Ashley Mielke, a registered psychologist at the Grief and Trauma Healing Centre, said these restrictions added on top of grieving can be another loss to grieve.

“Not only are we grieving the death of our loved one, we are now grieving the hopes and expectations of coming together (and) having this ritual that is so important for us,” Mielke said.

“I would say a normal expectation in any other time of our life would be that we plan this funeral, everybody comes together, we’re not thinking about the isolation and loneliness that we are going to feel because we can come together and have that normal ritual.

“Just give yourself permission to do what feels right for you. Give yourself permission to feel all the feelings, including that added layer of loss around maybe not having a funeral or postponing a funeral… and lean on this gift of technology that we have.”

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Meneghetti said her family has been leaning on video calls to find comfort from one another.

“Seeing everybody and just going around with the pictures on the screen and everybody pitching in on the stories and having their drink,” Meneghetti said. “It’s a great way of being as close as you can without being there.

“This going to be over some time, and we will have that big celebration.”

© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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