Bereavement during the Pandemic

For those who can’t be with family or friends

When someone is seriously ill, the usual response is to rush to the bedside. Here with friends and family we watch and wait and hope. This may not happen during the pandemic.

When someone dies a funeral is organised. Here with friends and family we say good-bye. Again this probably will be very limited during the pandemic.

We are told that only the nearest relatives may be able to attend. What follows is for those who are not considered nearest relatives or who cannot attend for other reasons.

Please note you may find our free online ‘Dealing with Loss’ helpful. You need to log in or create your free account here to access the course.

The Importance of Ritual

Bedside watches and funerals, secular or religious, follow patterns we call ‘rituals’ that have developed over centuries. They help us process and mark the loss and connect with other people.  These rituals matter because they help us mark the loss, connect with other people, and provide some structured space to reflect on what has happened.  Not performing these rituals is hard. What follows are some suggestions of rituals that might help if you find yourself unable to be with other people at a time of need.

Finding space

If you cannot be with somebody in person it is helpful to find a place either in the house or garden where you can go. If space is tight that might be the corner of a room.

  • Different traditions call this a refuge or a shrine.
  • Perhaps put appropriate pictures or statues there. Candles, aromatherapy oils or joss sticks can give an appropriate atmosphere.
  • Think about posture – kneeling or sitting cross-legged can help. Or a chair which you can concentrate in rather than slouch
  • A tree or plant in the garden or on a walk can be a place to go
  • A view from one window in the house can also be the place.

Whatever the space we find or create, its purpose is to give us a place where we can focus our minds. Here, in our minds at least, we can be with somebody we care about.

Finding time

When we are unable to be physically present and overcome with worry, grief or despair, we need to give ourselves permission to concentrate entirely on what is worrying us.

  • We cannot do this all the time, we need food and sleep and we may be caring for others who demand our attention.
  • Find specific times in the day to focus your attention on your concern.
  • Circumstance or personality may mean long periods of reflection or many short moments.
  • There is no ‘correct’ way to think, everybody worries and grieves in a different way.

Things to do

What you might do when somebody is ill or dies varies enormously and is as big as your imagination. The important thing is that it is meaningful to you.  Some ideas:

  • Find a tree, gate or fence and tie it with ribbons or decorations, or slips of paper with thoughts or prayers.
  • Plant something
  • Place flowers near a photo of the person
  • Light a candle
  • Keep a journal or write a poem
  • Write a card to the person you have lost

Connecting with those who share the concern or loss

Previously you would probably have shared by the bedside or at the funeral. Thoughts to consider:

  • Arrange an online chat to talk about your concern with others who share that concern and to share stories about the person you have lost.
  • If there has been a death, arrange a virtual funeral – sharing the ‘space’ with someone else can make the experience more meaningful and safe.
  • At these times people welcome the opportunity to talk, so do not be afraid to pick up the phone to a person you have not spoken to for a long time.

The below are words that we, as a chaplaincy service, have used recently but any pieces that are important to you can be comforting.

A poem by Ruth Burgess

Into the freedom of wind and sunshine
We let you go.
In to the dance of the stars and the planets
We let you go.
Into the arms of death that waits for us all
We let you go.
Think not that you are dying but remember that you lived.


Go gently on your voyage, beloved.
Let love call you home with the ebb tide.
May the moon light a way across the waters for you.
May the earth cradle you,
The breeze blow you swiftly
Until you reach the place where your weary vessel need labour no more,
Go gently, beloved, go.

Facing up to death – a prayer by A Powell Davies

Let us be honest with death. Let us not pretend that it is less than it is. It is separation. It is sorrow. It is grief. But let us not pretend that it is more than it is. It is not annihilation: as long as a memory endures, N’s influence will be felt. It is not an end to love: our human need and capacity for love is boundless. It is not an end to joy and laughter: it would do N no honour to make our lives drab in counterfeit respect. Let us be honest with death, for in that honesty we will understand her better and ourselves more deeply.

Words that can be used after somebody has died or at a virtual funeral – a poem by David Harkins

You can shed tears that she is gone
Or you can smile because she lived
You can close your eyes and just wish that she will come back
Or you can open your eyes and see all that she has left.

Your heart can be empty because you can’t see her
Or you can be full of the love that you shared;
You can turn your back on tomorrow and live yesterday
Or you can be happy for tomorrow because of yesterday.

You can remember her and only that she is gone
Or you can cherish her memory and let it live on;
You can try and close your mind, be empty, turn your back,
Or you can do what she would want: smile, open your eyes, love and go on.

Adapted from Bessie Anderson Stanley

They have achieved success who have lived well, laughed often and loved much;
Who have enjoyed the trust of pure women, the respect of intelligent men and the love of little children;
Who have filled their niche and accomplished their task;
Who have never lacked appreciation of Earth’s beauty or failed to express it;
Who have left the world better than they found it,
Whether an improved poppy, a perfect poem, or a rescued soul;
Who have always looked for the best in others and given them the best they had;
Whose life was an inspiration,
Whose memory a blessing.

From: Letters to a Young Poet

Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart
And try to love the questions themselves
Do not seek the answers which cannot be given you
Because you would not be able to live them
And the point is, to live everything
Live the questions now
Perhaps you will gradually, without noticing it
Live along some distant day into the answers.

Words to say together – by Laurence Binyon

At the rising of the sun and at its going down
We will remember him
At the blowing of the wind and in the chill of Winter
We will remember him
At the opening of the buds and in the rebirth of Spring
We will remember him
At times of weariness and of sorrow
We will remember him
At times of joy and celebration
We will remember him
When we need his advice, when we yearn for his company
We will remember him
As long as we live, he too will live, for he is a part of us
We will remember him

Christian Prayers and readings

The Lord’s prayer

Our Father, who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name;
thy kingdom come;
thy will be done;
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation;
but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom,
the power and the glory, for ever and ever. Amen.

The Hail Mary

Hail Mary, full of grace.
The Lord is with thee.
Blessed art thou amongst women,
and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
Holy Mary, Mother of God,
pray for us sinners,
now and at the hour of our death.

Psalm 23. This psalm is associated with difficult times as the words indicate.

The Lord is my shepherd; therefore can I lack nothing.
He makes me lie down in green pastures and leads me beside still waters.
He shall refresh my soul and guide me in the paths of righteousness
for his name’s sake.
Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil;
For you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
You spread a table before me in the presence of those who trouble me;
You have anointed my head with oil and my cup shall be full.
Surely goodness and loving mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever

Prayer for the dying

God of mercy, look kindly on N as death comes near.  Release Him/Her, and set Him/Her free by your grace to enter into the company of the saints in light.  Be with us as we watch and wait, and keep us in the assurance of your love; through Jesus Christ.  Amen

Prayer for the dead

Loving and merciful God, we entrust our brother/sister to your mercy. You loved him/her greatly in this life; now that he/she is freed from all its cares, give him/her happiness and peace for ever. The old order has passed away; welcome him/her now into paradise where there will be no more sorrow, no more weeping or pain, but only peace and joy with Jesus, your Son, and the Holy Spirit, for ever and ever.  Amen.

Muslim resources

The Prophet’s teaching on pandemics

In a hadith in Sahih Bukhari, Ayesha (Allah be pleased with her) asked the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) about pandemics. He replied it is a mercy for the believers, if a person lives through a pandemic and fulfils four conditions he will receive the reward similar to that of a martyr (he will enter heaven without any questioning)

  • stays in his land (self isolates),
  • he bears it patiently,
  • anticipating reward from Allah,
  • he has confidence that whatever happens is from Allah,

When a person is dying

Remember what will hopefully be whispered in their ear, perhaps this would be a good time to recite the same:  Laa ilaaha illallaahu, Muhammadur-Rasulullaah

“There is none worthy of worship except Allah and Muhammad (peace be upon Him) is Allah’s Messenger.”

Other prayers

Oh Allah! The Sustainer of Mankind! Remove the illness, cure the disease. You are the One Who cures. There is no cure except Your cure. Grant us a cure that leaves no illness.

O God, You are Peace.
From You comes Peace,
To You returns Peace.
Revive us with a salutation of Peace,
And lead us to Your abode of Peace.


In the name of Allah, the Lord of Mercy, the Giver of Mercy.
Praise belongs to Allah, Lord of the Worlds,
The Lord of Mercy, the Giver of Mercy,
Master of the Day of Judgement,
It is you we worship; it is you we ask for help.
Guide us to the straight path,
the path of those You have blessed.
Not the path of those who incur your,
And not the path of those who have gone astray.

Written by Paul Walker, Chaplaincy Services at Tees Esk and Wear Valleys NHS Foundation Trust.

We have information and resources on our Spirituality page, which you may also find helpful.

The Trust has a Chaplaincy service which is as much for staff as patients. Chaplains never impose their own beliefs on anybody and can support individuals, teams or your families through this.

If asked we can conduct virtual funerals suited to your needs. Those funerals can be religious or non-religious or a mixture of both. Even if you’re not sure the Chaplaincy can help please contact us to discuss. Contact details are: