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Creating purpose and meaning from Covid-19 bereavement – how I used my grief to campaign for change

When I lost my dad to Covid-19 in April it came as a devastating shock.  He was sixty years old with no underlying health conditions – this was not meant to happen to someone like him. 
Published on 04 Sep 2020
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Within days I felt compelled to share my experience, if this had happened to us it could happen to others and I had a duty to educate people about the risks. I couldn’t do that from the home I was locked down in so I turned my grief and frustration into a motivating force for action.

I used social media and my network in ways I had never used them before.  I started by telling my story online, then to local newspapers and news channels, thinking that if I reached even one person or family, I could make a difference.  Within weeks I had shared my story with multiple national and international news outlets.  I joined the Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice campaign group, and together we are working to amplify the voices of bereaved families to learn lessons and save lives ahead of a potential second wave this winter.

As a therapist I knew I would need counselling but found it difficult to access.  I tried a local hospice helpline and found it limited to 10-4 on weekdays.  I contacted Cruse and was told there was a 4-6 week wait.  In desperation I reconnected with my long-standing therapist, paying for sessions I could ill afford while I was taking time out from work to grieve.  If I, a qualified therapist with a big network and knowledge of the counselling system struggled to get help, what chance did others less fortunate or informed than I have?

Since joining Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice I have heard so many heart-breaking stories and seen signs of complex grief and trauma.  Some people have lost multiple family members, others have lost relatives long before their time.  Families have watched their loved ones die slow, agonising deaths.  Some have said goodbye on phone or video calls while others were unable to say goodbye at all.  Relatives could not see their loved ones in hospitals or funeral homes after they died because of infection risks.  Social distancing measures left partners self-isolating immediately after being bereaved and meant the majority could not access their usual support networks of family and friends. Funeral restrictions prevented many from engaging in this fundamental part of the grieving process.

I have made it my mission to raise awareness of the need for bereavement support for those who have lost someone during the pandemic, and to campaign for government funding for appropriate trauma and bereavement services.  It is hard but rewarding work.  By collaborating with charities who have secured limited funding some of our members have been able to access funded counselling.  Our campaign is gathering momentum; we have been granted audiences with high-profile influencers, most of whom have been supportive and empathic.  Our call for bereavement services is being heard; it was top of a list of recommendations coming from the All Party Parliamentary Group on Coronavirus I gave evidence to on 5th August. 

Someone recently said to me ‘so often, it feels as if some of the most significant changes and advances in our society are achieved by those who are grieving deeply’ and I am inclined to agree.  Sadly, we are living with a tidal wave of loss and grief.  That grief must be felt and processed to allow us to move forward.  Bereavement support, counselling and therapy are an essential part of doing that and I will continue do all I can to ensure those that need it get it.  However, based on my experience I also believe that by coming together around a common purpose we can bring about positive and sustainable change and provide a sense of togetherness and community to help carry that grief.  For me, grief has been an incredibly motivating force to make real meaning out of my loss and to do some good in the world.

Find out more about the campaign

By Kathryn de Prudhoe, Psychotherapist in private practice & counselling tutor.  Graduate of LBU School of Psychological Therapies & Mental Health