Chapter 3: Grief and COVID-19

What is work-related grief?

"I apologized for my tears when their father died. They told me they saw my tears as a sign of caring, not a sign of weakness. Knowing that their father mattered to me helped them." - Home care attendant

The circumstances of COVID-19, including its highly infectious nature, limited treatments, lack of supplies, staff shortages and other factors contribute to:

  • the potential for experiencing grief
  • the intensity of feelings
  • the length of time the feelings are experienced

Being human

It’s to be expected that human suffering will impact you. After all, you’re a human being before you are your work self. You may be affected by witnessing:

  • A patient’s physical symptoms 
  • A patient’s distress
  • The dying or death of a patient
  • The circumstances of a patient's death, including not having family or friends physically present
  • The family’s reaction to the death
  • The dying or death of a colleague from COVID-19

Grief that occurs during the course of our work can lead to feelings of shock, sadness, anger, guilt and numbness.

It’s okay for patients and families to know their lives and deaths matter to you.

Contributing factors

Several factors can contribute to work-related grief, including:

  • Connecting deeply to the patient and family
  • Frequent contacts with the patient or family
  • Witnessing trauma and multiple deaths day after day
  • Reminders of personal loss
  • Anticipating future personal loss
  • A poor patient or resident outcome due to COVID-19
  • Caring for family and friends and co-workers and the extra responsibility that carries
  • Feeling like we can't provide the care we want to because of resources, public health restrictions, and systemic barriers  

Helpful approach

Try to observe how these losses impact you and your work. Some feelings may be fleeting, or they may last longer than expected. Emotional responses to work-related grief that last more than a few weeks can be troubling. Exploring these feelings with your healthcare provider is advised.