Kelly Brown’s father, 74, first became ill with COVID-19, followed by his 71-year-old mother just two days later. John and Judy Trzebiatowski died of the disease a week apart last August, sending Brown into a black tunnel of grief that doesn’t seem to have an end.
Health restrictions have undermined things that normally help people deal with death, such as visits to the hospital bed in Wisconsin where they were treated and a large funeral with hugs and tears, he said. This left Brown to deal with his sadness alone, and now he had difficulty seeing a way forward.
With more than 605,000 COVID-19 deaths in the United States and nearly 4 million worldwide, Brown is part of thousands or more who could experience prolonged grief, the kind of grief experts say can prevent people to pass beyond a death and to function. normally returns.
“It’s the most horrible thing to have to go through,” Brown said. “I don’t want this to happen to anyone.”
Natalia Skritskaya, an expert on grief, said it was too early to say whether prolonged grief, also known as complicated grief, would be a major complication of the pandemic – it is not over yet, with thousands of people still dying every day. day in the world, including hundreds in the United States. Many patients have yet to spend a year of a loss, and few studies have been published so far on the psychiatric repercussions, he said.
But prolonged grief is both real and potentially debilitating, said Skritskaya, a research scientist and clinical psychologist at the Center for Complex Pain at Columbia University in New York. He noted that it can be treated with a therapy in which participants talk through their experience and their feelings.
“The heart of this is kind of helping people face the reality of what is happening,” he said. “It’s not an easy treatment. It’s intense. “
Jerri Vance said the therapy helped her deal with the grief since her husband, James Vance, a retired police officer in Bluefield, West Virginia, died of COVID-19 on New Year’s Day. , but she worries about her two daughters.
“Seeing my kids’ pain adds to my pain, ”she said. “One of my sons didn’t make much progress in therapy because his father was his person. He’s always angry with the world.”
A study published in the fall predicted a likely increase in pandemic-related cases of prolonged grief. Already, people who have lost their loved ones at COVID-19 are filling the pages of social media with stories of tears and sadness that just aren’t going away.
Many cite the loss of typical end-of-life rituals due to their ongoing grief; some struggle because of the coronavirus’s unpredictability and apparent injustice. The politicization of the pandemic is a thorn in the side for many who constantly see and hear some argue against what health experts say are safety practices that include vaccinations, wearing masks and social distances.
“In my office I listen all day to unwanted opinions and try not to get involved, since it’s unprofessional,” said Betsy Utnick, whose father, Sheldon Polan of Selden, New York, died in April. 2020. She said she always cries every day. because the grief has not yet subsided.
Noreen Wasti knows the feeling. She lost her father to coronavirus disease on December 27 and is in trouble.
Wasti, who writes and creates online content in New York, said she is unsure of what it will take to overcome the loss of Salman Wasti, 76, a retired biology professor from Glocester, Rhode Island.
“This was the first time I had lost someone so dear to me, so I never had a card for grief or really understood the magnitude. I always thought you were sad for a few months and then you agreed. I was so wrong, “he said.” It comes in waves and those waves feel as severe as the day we lost them. ”
With so many people injured and little personal interaction for months due to pandemic health restrictions, social media has become the place where many connect to share stories of their loved ones and loss. A private Facebook page dealing with COVID-19 losses has more than 10,000 members, and the continuing pain is a constant thread of discussion.
Rabia Khan has found solace online since the death on Thanksgiving Day of his father, Pakistani activist Muhammad Hameedullah Khan of Chicago. In the survivor and family groups, she said, grief does not raise insensitive questions about how a loved one contracted the virus or why someone was not careful enough to prevent it.
Aside from sharing stories online of her late husband Ben Schaeffer, a conductor and historian of the New York subway, Lisa Smid tried to redirect her anxiety into something positive. He sponsored an online conference at the New York Transit Museum and plans to honor his legacy by giving more commemorative conferences.
“I love being able to have an event to look forward to where I will have an acceptable outlet for my pain as I move forward with my own life,” he said.
Ann Haas of St. Paul, Minnesota, always tries to find some sort of outlet while she cries, but work continues to bring her back to the worst day of her life.
Haas lost his father, Raymond Haas, to COVID-19 on Nov. 11 and works in the laundry room of the same Veterans Affairs hospital where he spent his last days. Haas said the memories flooded her every time she folded a tanned blanket like the one that covered her as she struggled to survive.
“‘I want other people to be able to see what people do. I hear people say,’ That’s not true, it’s nothing, ‘” Haas said between sobs. “I have nothing left.” I don’t know if it’s going to take them long to lose someone to understand. ”