You are not alone – coping with grief and loss during COVID-19 | Western Cape Government

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You are not alone – coping with grief and loss during COVID-19

13 January 2021

“You are not alone.” This is the message Stikland Hospital community psychologist Zanele Ludziya has shared with people who are grieving the loss of loved ones and more during the COVID-19 pandemic.

As we kicked off this year, it was not a “happy” New Year for many people. Losing a loved one to death is never easy, and it can trigger a range of emotions, explains Zanele. There are many signs you can look out for when a loved one is grieving and may need support, but an absence of symptoms does not mean that the person is not grieving, says Zanele.

“Grief has been defined by as the multifaceted response to loss which impacts  the emotional, cognitive, social and behavioral responses to death.  It’s imperative to understand that the spectrum of disruption in a person life is broad and can vary from barely noticeable changes to profound and intense changes.”


Some emotions a person may experience after someone’s death may include anger and sadness.

“A person may show signs of anger, irritability, sadness, or apathy after losing a loved one. Secondly, the person’s cognitive functioning may be affected, as the person may be preoccupied with thoughts and memories of the deceased or experience difficulty with concentrating or may appear confused. Lastly, be aware of behavioral changes, for example, being tearful, or increased alcohol and substance use. They may smoke more than they usually do, they may withdraw or isolate or they may avoid people and places. They may want silence or increased noise; they could also be more aggressive or ‘snappy’.”

When supporting a loved one, it is also helpful to understand the grieving process and that everyone experiences it differently. Zanele says we should remember that “grief is not a state but a process,” adding that not all people will experience the five stages of grief and there is no particular order.

“A person will usually go through stages of grief. The common stages of grief include:

  1. Denial/isolation (experiencing numbness or shock);
  2. Anger (for example, getting angry with others when the other person hasn’t done anything wrong or anger that is out of proportion);
  3. Bargaining (experiencing feelings of guilt over things not done or said);
  4. Depression (the sadness that is felt is not like a major depressive episode/disorder but sadness that comes when realising that life will continue without their loved); and
  5. Acceptance (finding a way to living a fulfilled life without the person).”



One way of coping or showing support is to understand the stage of grief you are in or that a loved one is experiencing.

“In understanding the stages of grief, it can reassure the person who is grieving that what they are experiencing is normal.   It’s important to treat the person going through grief or yourself with kindness patience and understanding, keeping in mind what you are experiencing will eventually pass.  If you are supporting someone going through the process of grief don’t try and push that person out of a stage or compare them to someone who may have completed their grieving process.  Each person will experience the stages of grief differently. Don’t feel guilty or make someone feel guilty if a person maybe stuck in a stage or find themselves going back to a particular stage.”

While adults deal with grief amid the pandemic, Zanele says we should not forget that children, too, are affected and need support.

“According to grief experts it best to talk to children about death and the meaning of grief. Help children identify and name the emotions that they may be feeling. Normalize their experience. Tell them what to expect during this process. Answer any questions they may, even if they have asked you before. Explain things in an age appropriate manner. To do this you can use pictures, or books or music.  Don’t assume they understand concepts and don’t assume that they are too young to understand. Remember children, even infants, are highly perceptive and will pick up on the emotions displayed in the house. So, talk to children include them in the grieving process.  If you as the parent or guardian are too overwhelmed to talk to your child or children find someone else like a family member or a support person that they can talk

If you’re concerned about a loved one, you can reach out and find out how you can help them.

“If someone in your life has lost a loved one, you can help them by asking what kind of support you can give them. There are also various NGOs, like the South African Depression and Anxiety Group, which offers support in a variety of issues including feelings of distress, loss or change. Their website is They also have a helpline 0800 567 567. However, more information and resources by SADAG can be accessed via their website.”

There are also many ways you can support your loved ones and seek support virtually while grieving. Online communication can never replace human connection, but we need to keep safe while supporting our loved ones.

“People can use their mobile phones to collect information about counselling centers, counselling numbers, emergency numbers and share this information with family and friends.  They can join various support groups on social media.”

While social gatherings are not allowed and funerals have been limited to 50 people, you can still support loved ones before and after a funeral. You can:

  • Use technology to stay in touch, like phone calls, text messages or video chats to check on loves one who are grieving. Find out from your loves ones how you can support them virtually.
  • Gather virtually by hosting or joining an online memorial service before the funeral to honour a loved one’s memory. Plan a programme for the virtual event.
  • Livestream a funeral service so that more relatives can join online, if possible, to prevent overcrowding.
  • Host a virtual funeral reception after the service to provide an opportunity for your loved ones to reflect. Give family members an opportunity to share any memories or pictures, have a moment of silence and consider a virtual toast to honour your loved one’s memory.
  • Set up an online memorial page or family group using social media, where you can share memories and encourage each other during the difficult time.

There are several other life events that may have triggered grief during the pandemic that we should be aware of.

“Other situations that can trigger grief is losing a relationship, for example, experiencing a breakup or the end of a friendship. Losing material possessions, like a home or a car, can trigger grief. Also relocating from one area to another can be a trigger. Losing independence can also be a trigger. During this pandemic isolation can trigger grief as it can feel like a loss of freedom.”

Zanele says grief is a personal process and reminds the public that they don’t need to walk the journey alone.

“You are not alone. Be kind and patient with yourself.”

* The Mental Health Information Centre is a good source of information in terms of which support groups and additional services exist in your area. You can reach them at 021 938 9229. There are also numerous national acute helplines such as Lifeline 0861 322 322, the Suicide Crisis Line 0800 567 567 and the services offered by the South African Depression and Anxiety Group 011 234 4837.

Media Enquiries: 

Shimoney Regter
Communications Officer
Department of Health
Western Cape Government
Office: 021 815 8885
Cell: 081 342 6687