NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ — Monday will mark the doleful anniversary of the first COVID-19 death recorded in New Jersey.
Since March 10, there have been some 14,000 confirmed COVID-19 deaths, about 1,900 more suspected deaths and millions of heartbroken friends and family left behind.
Their mourning was especially impacted during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, when friends and family couldn’t be bedside in the final moments of life, and they weren’t able to gather for funeral services.
One grief counselor said that untold scores of New Jerseyans over the past five months have been carrying around unresolved feelings.
The scope and the unique circumstances of this health crisis means counselors are entering uncharted territory when it comes to helping others make peace with their losses, said Sharon Coyle Saeed, a bereavement counselor at Visiting Nurses Association of Central New Jersey who also runs a grief counseling group at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick.
“I got a call the other day from one of my co-workers, and she was saying, ‘I have to transfer the ashes into the urn and I don’t know how to do that,’” she said. “We're being called in different walks of life to do different things, and how to honor those things. We are all walking in new territory. And even those who have dealt with bereavement and grief and loss before as counselors, we’re also diving into new territory.
“So, it's a learning process for everyone and it's going to be different for everyone.”
Coyle Saeed said a good first step for someone who feels as if they might be struggling is to talk to a grief counselor, a friend or a relative and tell them who their loved was or describe their last days or share the story about how they said good bye.
“This helps to also process some of the things that may need to still be processed,” Coyle Saeed said. “And when you're telling the story to someone who is a bereavement counselor, hopefully they will be able to pick out the pieces that there may be some unresolved grief because it will look like this. Something that you wish you would have said or done differently, better or more. ‘I wish I would have told my dad that I loved him in the beginning of January when he could hear me. I didn't think this would happen, you know?’”
As our society continues to observe socially distancing, people are using Facebook and other social media platforms as a way to express their grief.
Coyle Saeed said this is sometimes a good way to reach out. Friends and family far and wide can share their condolences. But all too often, she said, people will offer inappropriate comments such as, “He’s in a better place.” Or, they will turn the Facebook post into a discussion about their own losses. Or, maybe worse of all, there will be little to no feedback on social media.
She said you should seek out a counselor who can work with you via Zoom, FaceTime or other video platform if you feel like you don’t have any support from your friends or family.
“If you’re feeling very isolated in your experience — that’s a big thing,” Coyle Saeed said. “Sometimes you have a good friend that you can talk to and then you do feel heard and listened. Not everyone has that and that’s when they should seek a counselor.”
Coyle Saeed can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.