Before the expected second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic hits, Canadians could prepare by lobbying for improved grief services to deal with the anticipated deaths, suggests the executive director of the Winnipeg-based Canadian Virtual Hospice.

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Before the expected second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic hits, Canadians could prepare by lobbying for improved grief services to deal with the anticipated deaths, suggests the executive director of the Winnipeg-based Canadian Virtual Hospice.

"We’re still looking at a gap, and there’s definitely a need" to bolster services, said Shelly Cory. "Everything we’ve heard about the second wave means that we need to be proactive in getting these services up and ready."

Last month, the Canadian Virtual Hospice and the Canadian Grief Alliance asked the federal government for a $100-million investment in grief supports over three years and $10 million dedicated to research.

The two groups are scheduled to meet today with representatives from the office of Health Minister Patty Hajdu.

Cory is urging Winnipeggers to write letters supporting improved grief services, especially in light of losses from COVID-19, by clicking through on the hospice website.

While grief is mostly associated with the death of a family member, many people are also experiencing pandemic-related grief from losses around routines, shuttered workplaces and cancelled recreational events, said Glen Horst, spiritual care advisor to the virtual hospice.

"I think the whole society is going through a grieving process," he said. "We’re watching things slip away and we don’t know if we’re going to recover them."

The five-person organization, with offices at Riverview Health Centre, serves about 2.1 million people a year through learning modules and resources on websites mygrief.ca and kidsgrief.ca. The hospice’s nine English and French platforms have seen about 70 per cent more traffic in recent months, said Cory.

"We know there are more people grieving. People are grieving in virtual isolation," she said.

Extra resources from government could increase staff positions at Palliative Manitoba to train and support more volunteers running its grief phone line, which has had a 40 per cent increase in calls since the beginning of the pandemic, said executive director Jennifer Gurke.

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Volunteers commit themselves to calling clients weekly for an hour-long conversation to offer compassion and support.

"Grief is more complicated with the pandemic," she said. "People feel more isolated, they feel more alone, they don’t have people to reach out to."

Gurke said the organization is facing a revenue loss of $63,000 due to cancelled fundraising events, a hit of 12 per cent to its annual budget of about $500,000.

Horst said delaying funerals or limiting them to immediate family during the pandemic also increases isolation, since the community surrounding a grieving family cannot reach out through the usual rituals. Livestreaming funeral or memorial services can help, but technology can’t replace the sense of a community grieving together.

"It’s the neighbour, it’s the casual acquaintance, it’s the work colleague and the cottage neighbour who are all robbed of paying their respects," said Horst.

faith@freepress.mb.ca

Brenda Suderman

Brenda Suderman
Faith reporter

Brenda Suderman has been a columnist in the Saturday paper since 2000, first writing about family entertainment, and about faith and religion since 2006.

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