Chapter 3: Grief and COVID-19

Introduction

“Sometimes I feel like I am the only one who feels down and helpless. As healthcare providers, we’re supposed to just deal with difficult situations but what I’m feeling is just so different now. Patients are alone and their families are devastated.” – Nurse

Grief is everywhere in healthcare. A growing body of research demonstrates that the majority of healthcare providers across disciplines experience some level of grief in response to the death of a patient. Grief is often under-recognized and poorly supported in healthcare systems. Unfortunately this can lead to burnout and other mental health conditions.

Grief often feels isolating. This is more pronounced with COVID-19, when we are maintaining physical distance from others. Our potential exposure to the virus requires additional precautions outside of work which can amplify feelings of isolation. Family and friends may feel uncomfortable being around us or our families. This can make us feel even more alone. As a result, we may experience the emotional and social impacts of this pandemic more intensely than others. 

In this chapter, we introduce types of grief that are common when working in healthcare. We will also explore how having clinical or ‘insider’ knowledge can contribute to our grief experience. 

For the purposes of this module, we refer to this distress as work-related grief and we refer to patients, residents, and clients as patients.