Pandemic Mourning: Losing A Family Member To COVID-19

With 212,339 deaths from COVID-19, Mexico has thousands of families in mourning.

“I lost my father almost a month ago,” said Miriam Vallejo Suárez, a 26-year-old homemaker in Veracruz. “It was all very sudden. He began to feel bad in the construction site where he worked. Two bricklayers had been infected with COVID-19, and we suspect he contracted it there,” she said.

“My dad felt bad. He spent two days with a fever in my house. Then he started coughing and felt very weak. We took him to the Social Security [a public hospital]. In the special area for COVID-19 patients, he had a crisis. He was intubated and only held out for three days. It amazes me how quickly the world can change for you,” said Vallejo Suárez.

Mexico is among the countries with the highest number of deaths from COVID-19, according to official data processed by Johns Hopkins University of Medicine. The country’s government estimates that it has 2,305,602 registered cases of infection.

Family members of patients who die from COVID-19 may not have accompanied their loved ones in their last moments, making it difficult to process their departure. (Mufid Majnun/Unsplash)

To mourn a relative, a person will need a certain period to cope with the pain,” said Ernesto Segura Valdivia, a private psychologist at the Cristóbal Colón University in Veracruz.

“The best thing to do in these cases is to help the grieving person with the support of a professional psychologist. With this type of aid, the person will be able to handle depression positively, and anxiety will not last as long,” Segura Valdivia said.

Unexpected deaths, whether caused by accidents or sudden health problems, leave similar consequences for family members. Segura Valdivia said that bereavement in these cases is much more complicated than grief due to natural death.

“It is important for the person to recognize the pain caused by the death of their family member. To cope with the fact that the family member is not physically present, they must work on the memories and the emptiness left by the deceased. They are [present] in the heart,” Segura Valdivia said.

Isolation in the pandemic means an even more painful situation.

“The most difficult thing is that the mourners feel guilty of not having accompanied their relatives in their last moments,” said Segura Valdivia.

In the COVID-19 era, grief is even more difficult because funeral rites cannot be performed. The bodies are quickly cremated so as not to spread the virus.

The sudden departure of a loved one is a hard blow. To manage grief, family members may need the support of a behavioral health professional. (Hush Naidoo/Unsplash)

Psychology professionals recommend that family members vent to release all their feelings as they may experience bouts of anger or sadness. Experts also suggest that the family be united, support each other and prevent anyone from feeling alone.

Vallejo Suárez’s family has struggled to overcome and help each other.

“My brother and I try not to leave our mother alone. We accompany her at all times and take her to therapy with a psychologist so that she can cope with the pain. He has been a great help, which we can tell by the supportive attitude he adopted with her last week. We know it is a long process, but it is going well,” said Miriam Vallejo Suárez.

Despite not being able to hold a funeral, the Vallejos can begin to plan what to do with the ashes so that family and friends can say goodbye. This ceremony in honor of the deceased could be the space that relatives need to express their feelings toward the person who died so suddenly, Segura Valdivia said.

(Translated and edited by Gabriela Olmos; edited by Kristen Butler)

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