Most of my patients are in facilities which means I can’t really contact them, so I spend my days calling or doing FaceTime sessions with family and loved ones. I let them know I care, pray with them if they like, but mostly listen. What I am hearing is great resilience - people coping with this terrible situation in the best ways they can. Here are some practical and some spiritual ways to cope..
Practical Ways to Cope
All of these involve asking for help from the social work, activities, or pastoral care people at the facility or hospital. They are looking for ways to help and can do any of the following at the bedside or from the doorway.
- Chaplains can pray or meditate with your loved one if that is their practice.
- They could read something - a letter you have written, saying whatever you want to say, a favorite scripture passage, a poem or meditation.
- They can play something for the patient - a voice message from you or a favorite type of music.
- They can show them something - a favorite piece of artwork, something you have made, photos of a favorite place
- If the facility allows they can give your loved one a prayer shawl. Some families have throws made with pictures printed on them. These comfort two ways - warms them and they can see the people the love.
Most importamtly, you may be able to set up a time with a social worker, chaplain, or activities director to FaceTime or Zoom with the patient. One facility I work with has done this especially at end of life - over Zoom, FaceTime or Skype the family shared stories, prayed, or sang to the patient. They said goodbye. It’s not the same as being there and you can’t hold that person’s hand but you can at least see them and you can show your love. It’s not ideal but it’s as close as you can get and has given comfort to some of the family members.
Here in northeastern Massachusetts, some funeral homes allow graveside services. I’ve done a couple in the past month. One family broadcast the service over Zoom to those who couldn’t be there in person. Again, it’s not ideal but it’s the best we can do, and after this is over (and it will be) you can have a celebration of life for your loved one, in person.
- Do anything that helps you feel grounded - working in the garden, doing dishes (works for some people), yoga, prayer, meditation, cuddling with a pet - whatever works for you.
- Do something creative that absorbs your attention. Cooking, writing, coloring, drawing or painting, making something in your shop, taking photographs, doing a craft.
- Do things to feel you’re making a difference - if you sew and have supplies, you can make face masks to donate. You can purchase a meal for your loved one’s caregivers, just call ahead to see what they would like and when to have it delivered. This is such a great way to show appreciation. If you're able to donate money, do that.
- Do whatever helps slow your breathing and focus your mind. Read, listen to soothing music, take a bath, light a candle. Give your grief some space but try not to let it take over.