Chapter 3: Grief and COVID-19

Cumulative grief

What the grief expert says
Michaela McLean, grief expert, discusses the multiple layers of grief people working in healthcare experience. (3:22)Video transcript


"My days are filled with other people's losses, many of which I feel deeply. My world is upside down. I can't even go to visit my Mom for fear of getting her sick. Another one of many losses I'm feeling right now." - ICU nurse

Many people working in healthcare experience multiple deaths and losses within a short period of time. This can result in cumulative grief.  We may have recurring thoughts and feelings with each patient or residents death which, over time can ‘stack up’. During the pandemic, you may experience several losses simultaneously or within short periods of time. This may include witnessing situations where patients are very ill without their family’s presence or support. This can be stressful because there is insufficient time to properly grieve one loss before experiencing the next. The losses experienced are not always death related. For example a trusted colleague may change jobs and move to another health facility leaving you without a support system. 

Witnessing deaths of many patients who are isolated from their families, may be just as difficult as witnessing deaths where symptoms are uncontrolled. This can be extremely difficult and can lead to traumatic grief.