In the wave of optimism emerging as COVID-19 infections fall in the United States, it’s easy to lose sight of the millions who will suffer for years to come as a result of the pandemic. These are the people who’ve lost a loved one because of the virus. Their grief is complicated, long-lasting and requires attention.
It seems like the United States is slowly crawling out of the COVID-19 pandemic. Mask mandates are being lifted, people are returning to the office and classroom, and vaccines are more readily available. There is a newfound hope and sense of freedom as people can travel, go out and about and in some ways return to pre-pandemic routines. Active cases in the U.S. are on the decline compared to the winter — the CDC tracker shows the decrease in new cases from 191,320 the week of Jan. 10 to under 10,000 the week of June 12.
Despite the renewed sense of hope, COVID-19 left a trail of destruction. In the U.S. alone there have been nearly 600,000 deaths since the virus started in March of 2020. The sheer number of deaths is overwhelming and makes it challenging to move on when loss is hauntingly present. Research shows over 5 million Americans are mourning Covid-19 related deaths. Optimism surrounding the vaccine and transition back to public life has produced positivity throughout America, but is also creating an illusion that blinds the country to the great amount of sorrow and depression present.
Roughly 3 in 10 adults in the U.S. reported symptoms of anxiety depressive disorder during the pandemic, increasing from the one in ten adults who reported signs from January to June 2019. Studies show mental health is declining as people are experiencing more stress, anxiety and depression. As a nation we have encountered multiple other losses as well. We’ve lost luxuries, routines, flexibility, community and companionship. Not to mention the loss of jobs, homes, food and even school attendance for students across the country. Sadly, there will be no return to normal for those who lost a loved one during the pandemic.
What started as a virus outbreak has spiraled into a different type of pandemic – A Pandemic of Grief. The need is great and will not be going anywhere soon. But there is hope and help. Churches are key and can play a vital role in meeting the needs of the individuals currently grieving.
Pastors and church leaders can offer their wisdom and guidance to congregants. With an overwhelming number of people dealing with a recent loss, there is great potential to reach them for Christ in the coming months. God consistently brings good out of suffering. Maintaining this mindset will help open your eyes to the various opportunities presented by the widespread grief.
Take time to educate yourself and others. Think about what grieving people might want and expect from churches and pastors. Looking at things from the perspective of the person who lost a loved one will help you better understand their needs. Discuss how after losing a loved one, many firsts are difficult to face, and find ways to be there for the individuals experiencing those new firsts. Especially be mindful of how different holidays and events could heighten those emotions, and how you or your church can help people through those specific times.
Equip deacons, fellow pastors and small group leaders on the basics of how to help those dealing with grief. Look at your pastoral care teams and support group ministries and see what their current stress level is. With the overwhelming number of deaths, you will likely need to make more groups and pull in additional staff to have an adequate number of leaders. Preparing church staff for offering grief support will benefit those coming for counsel because those leading will have the necessary skills and knowledge of what to do.
See this as an opportunity to share Christ with the community as people are reaching out in need of support from others. Welcome them into your church where they can become involved right away — something which may plant the seeds and lead them into a growing relationship with the God of all comfort. Those who have learned to suffer or experience their grief in a healthy way can become an even greater resource to others. By receiving proper support during grief, they should be able to carry the skills and coping techniques learned with them as they face suffering later in life as well. Resources like GriefShare, a grief support group ministry, have developed toolkits specifically designed to help churches.
It is inevitable that at one time or another we all will experience the loss of a loved one. The COVID-19 pandemic made this a reality for many, and the nation will continue to see the effects of the grief pandemic for years to come. GriefShare, a support group ministry It is essential that pastors take the lead in guiding the church and its people to meet the need for grief support facing the country today.
Samuel Hodges is the vice president, publishing of Church Initiative, a ministry that develops Christ-centered resources that equip churches to help grieving and divorced people. Through Griefshare, a grief support group ministry, resources have been developed specifically to help churches minister to those whose grief has been caused or affected by COVID-19. Learn more at https://www.griefshare.org/covid.