The Pathways of Hope grief counseling staff at Ohio’s Hospice and its affiliates, including Ohio’s Community Mercy Hospice, continue to provide bereavement services in a variety of safe and approachable ways for patients, families and community members during the COVID-19 pandemic. Because of COVID-19, Pathways of Hope is now offering its services both virtually and in person.
“The staff at Ohio’s Hospice are honored and privileged to continue to serve our patients and families throughout this time,” said Lisa Balster, director of Patient and Family Support Services for Ohio’s Hospice. “For those who are more comfortable receiving services virtually, we are pleased to offer this to them. We will be happy to talk with them and determine which bereavement services will best fit their unique needs.”
Whether individuals receive services virtually or in person, Pathways of Hope grief counseling staff are concerned about how the COVID-19 pandemic will affect grieving children and teens; people who are isolated, particularly the elderly; and those for whom grief leads to depression.
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, many people are struggling. Many traditions and experiences that bring joy and connection, such as commencement, prom, starting college, visiting with friends and hugging grandchildren, have been lost. In addition, many people are not able to grieve in a traditional way after a death. Funerals and memorial services have been delayed or canceled because of COVID-19.
“We have lost the world we knew — our assumptive world,” Balster said. “We have lost many of our traditions, rituals and expectations. We are experiencing a million little griefs. People say they just want their lives back. While this is a very human emotion, it is irrational, and we are all struggling with it.”
Children, teens, people living alone, particularly the elderly, and those for whom grief becomes depression may need additional support and attention as they cope with grief during the COVID-19 pandemic. While online counseling sessions are on option in some cases, they are not ideal for children and teens experiencing grief.
“Small children are not going to get on the phone and just talk,” Balster said. “We find that parallel play and working in tandem often help children and teens open up when we are together in the same room. It’s much harder to engage younger people in this way remotely.”
To overcome that obstacle, one of her art coordinators is developing activities that she can do with children online. Another counselor took an unusual approach to connect with siblings who had lost their father. It was the father’s tradition to take them to the opening day of an amusement park, so the counselor found virtual roller coaster rides online, and they virtually rode the rides together during their counseling session.
Balster and her team are recommending to parents and guardians that they create a time for their children to talk with them and encourage them to share their feelings through writing or drawing. Then, they should discuss what their work means to them.
“Parents and guardians also should offer ongoing reassurance and listen carefully when their children talk,” Balster said. “Again, it’s about being present, recognizing that time is the gift we can give right now.”
For those who are isolated, such as the elderly who might be living alone, Balster recommends making a connect with that person, whether they are grieving a loved one or the loss of family visits.
“Get that note in the mail, send a text, reach out on Facebook, or make a phone call,” she said. “A simple message that says, ‘I’m thinking of you,’ makes a huge difference.”
If the person has lost a loved one, share the story you might have shared at the funeral. “When we are grieving someone, we need to know that the person mattered,” Balster said. “When we are grieving, we need to know that we matter.”
For those who become depressed, it’s important to watch for signs that grief may be turning into depression, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic as people cope with the death of a loved one or through the loss of a job, sense of stability or physical connections with family and friends.
“As grief counselors, we always are watching for the signs that someone may be moving from grief to depression,” Balster said. “If someone is suffering from depression, we can refer them to a mental health professional or provide them with a list of resources.”
Pathways of Hope
Pathways of Hope services are available to the friends and family of all Ohio’s Hospice patients, as well as anyone in the public, free of charge, thanks to generous support from the communities Ohio’s Hospice serves. For more information, contact a Pathways of Hope grief counseling center at one of these locations.
Community Care Hospice or Ohio’s Hospice of Fayette County
Ohio’s Hospice of Butler & Warren Counties
Ohio’s Community Mercy Hospice
Hospice of Central Ohio
740.788.1400 – Newark
614.891.6000 – Columbus
740.454.0000 – Zanesville
740.681.1000 – Lancaster
Ohio’s Hospice of Dayton
Ohio’s Hospice LifeCare
419.496.0057 – Ashland
330.674.8448 – Millersburg
330.264.4899 – Wooster
Ohio’s Hospice Loving Care
937.644.1928 – Marysville
740.852.7755 – London
Ohio’s Hospice of Miami County