Co-op warns of grief pandemic as nation's ability to grieve put on lockdown

14 July 2020

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  • UK’s leading funeral provider estimates that 9.7 million mourners have been denied the opportunity to say their last goodbye at their loved one’s funeral
  • 59% of bereaved UK adults said their grief process has been negatively affected by the lockdown
  • A further 61% of bereaved UK adults, who have experienced a bereavement during lockdown, said that nothing has helped them to grieve

Co-op has released a report which reveals the devasting impact lockdown has had on the nation’s ability to grieve and warns of the grief pandemic the UK is yet to face.

An online YouGov survey, commissioned by the UK’s leading funeral provider Co-op Funeralcare, shows that in the weeks following the start of the UK’s lockdown on 23rd March, 47% of bereaved adults in the UK have been denied their final farewell . Although a necessary measure to protect our nation during the coronavirus pandemic, the restrictions on the number of funeral attendees mean that many have been unable to attend their loved one’s funeral, with some councils prohibiting any attendees at crematoriums and gravesides.

When asked about the most important way to say goodbye, 42% of UK adults chose being present when their loved one passes away, whilst 33% chose attending a funeral or memorial service. Sadly, in a bid to slow the spread of Covid-19, neither of these goodbyes have been an option for an estimated 243,000 bereaved families.

Funerals play an intrinsic part in the grieving process, and by being unable to attend, many have been unable to grieve the loss of their loved one. The survey revealed that 37% of mourners have been unable to pay their respects by attending a funeral service, whilst 45% of people said the funeral went ahead, or will go ahead, with restricted attendance in person only.

A harrowing estimate of more than 133,000 bereaved families who have lost a loved one during lockdown said their grief process has been negatively affected by the restrictions in place, with over three fifths (61%) saying that nothing in particular has helped them to grieve. This inability to grieve at present means the nation could experience a prolonged period of mourning for months, or even years, to come.

David Collingwood, Director of Funerals at Co-op Funeralcare said: “A funeral provides a sense of closure for bereaved families and is very often the start of the grieving process. Sadly, the recent restrictions mean an estimated 243,000 bereaved families have been denied the right to say goodbye to their loved one in the way they would have wished.

“We completely supported the need to introduce these restrictions at the beginning of the devasting Coronavirus pandemic in the UK. We had to make some tough but responsible decisions to protect our colleagues and clients, and to fulfil our social responsibility of slowing the spread of the disease.

“Tragically, we don’t yet know what the long-term psychological effects will be for families denied the last opportunity to say goodbye, so it is vital that we do everything possible to allow families and individuals to attend funerals, whilst always prioritising the health and safety of our communities.”

Co-op Foundation has partnered with Co-op Funeralcare to deliver grants of up to £10,000 for projects that help young people to support each other through bereavement. Organisations can express their interest in the Co-op Foundation #iwill Fund until 31 July. The funding will help build confidence, skills and a sense of belonging among young bereaved people, while helping them to make a long-term impact on their peers who have gone through similar experiences.

In our Biggest Ever Survey in 2018 , 81% of respondents said they hadn’t saved anything towards their funeral, and 8% admitted to experiencing financial hardship due to paying for the funeral of a loved one. Co-op understands the impact financial worries can have on those trying to navigate the grieving process, so has extended the financial support available through its own Funeralcare Hardship Fund.

The fund which was launched in April as part of the Co-op Members Coronavirus Fund has allowed Co-op’s 4.6 million members to donate their unspent existing member rewards. The Hardship Fund provides a grant of £250 to anyone who is in financial hardship and arranging a funeral for a loved one who died as a result of coronavirus, or a coronavirus related illness.

Andy Langford, Cruse Bereavement Care Clinical Director said: “The coronavirus pandemic has meant it is an incredibly distressing time to be grieving, whenever your bereavement occurred. Many people have been grieving in isolation, unable to attend funerals, say goodbye, and be close to those they love. When you feel you have no control over how you can experience those last moments with someone, this can have a profound impact on the grieving process.” *

Whilst grief itself is not a mental health problem, it can cause mental health problems for some of us. Co-op is working with its partners Mind, SAMH and Inspire to encourage those affected by grief to access support from bereavement charities before their mental health deteriorates.

Stephen Buckley, Head of Information at Mind said: “The loss of a loved one during the pandemic is leaving many people struggling with grief. In most cases, grief is not a diagnosable mental health problem. It is absolutely normal that grief places strain on our everyday lives and it can take a long time to adapt to life after a loss.

“If you feel that your mental health is suffering following a bereavement beyond the stages of grief or if you have an existing mental health problem that is being worsened following a bereavement and you’re struggling to cope, it’s important to seek help, speak to a loved one, GP or contact a bereavement charity.” *

ENDS

Full comment from Cruse below *

Andy Langford, Cruse Bereavement Care Clinical Director said: “The coronavirus pandemic has meant it is an incredibly distressing time to be grieving, whenever your bereavement occurred. Many people have been grieving in isolation, unable to attend funerals, say goodbye, and be close to those they love. When you feel you have no control over how you can experience those last moments with someone, this can have a profound impact on the grieving process.

“Funerals allow family, friends and a community to come together, express emotion, talk about that person and formally say goodbye. When you feel you have no control over how you can grieve, and over how you can experience those last moments with someone, that can complicate how you grieve.

“There are things people can do, such as live streaming the funeral or holding a memorial at home. However, the most important thing is to keep in contact with others as you’re going through this unprecedented and upsetting experience.

“Similarly, if you know someone struggling, we would encourage you to reach out to them or refer them to an organisation like Cruse. Just knowing someone is there for them can make all the difference.”

Full comment from Mind below*

Stephen Buckley, Head of Information at Mind said: “The loss of a loved one during the pandemic is leaving many people struggling with grief. In most cases, grief is not a diagnosable mental health problem. It is absolutely normal that grief places strain on our everyday lives and it can take a long time to adapt to life after a loss.

“There is no right or wrong way to feel following a loss. Some people seek help immediately by showing their emotions and talking to people, others prefer to deal with things slowly, quietly or by themselves.

“If you feel that your mental health is suffering following a bereavement beyond the stages of grief or if you have an existing mental health problem that is being worsened following a bereavement and you’re struggling to cope, it’s important to seek help, speak to a loved one, GP or contact a bereavement charity.”

Note to editors: Research was commissioned by YouGov and took place between 7th and 13th May 2020

Research was conducted with a total sample of 9551 UK adults, with 2008 respondents having experienced a bereavement during lockdown, and 9% stating a bereavement was due to coronavirus.

The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all UK adults (aged 18+).

For further information, please contact:
Sarah Jane Thoms / sarahjane.thoms@coop.co.uk / 07890 384 552
Vikki McCrindle/ vikki.mccrindle@coop.co.uk / 07773 096 868
Lauren Pogson / lauren.pogson@coop.co.uk / 07702 505 626
Follow us @CoopUKpress on Twitter and Instagram

About the Co-op The Co-op is one of the world’s largest consumer co-operatives with interests across food, funerals, insurance, legal services and health. It has a clear purpose of championing a better way of doing business for you and your communities.

Owned by millions of UK consumers, the Co-op operates 2,600 food stores, over 1,000 funeral homes and it provides products to over 5,100 other stores, including those run by independent co-operative societies and through its wholesale business, Nisa Retail Limited. It has more than 63,000 colleagues and an annual revenue of over £10 billion.