COVID-19 forced grief support groups online; a year later, they’re still waiting
It was March 5, 2020, and a local Philadelphia chapter of The Compassionate Friends grief support group had just wrapped up its monthly meeting at Temple University Hospital. When chapter leader Marvella McDaniel left the basement classroom that night, she never could have expected that it would be their last in-person gathering for over a year.
Five days later, Philadelphia reported its first coronavirus case, and the next day, the World Health Organization declared the virus a “pandemic.” Daily life came to a halt. Some states shut down bars, restaurants and public venues, and enforced masks and social distancing. Other states remained opened, not requiring masks or testing.
COVID-19 cases and deaths in the U.S. soon began to rise. Fear eventually followed, along with anxiety and depression.
With meetings now canceled, and the Boyer Pavilion at Temple converted into a COVID-19 hospital, McDaniel began making one-on-one calls and FaceTiming group members to check on them. Aside from discussing their grief, she noticed people also needed to talk about their experiences during the pandemic. For instance, members who didn’t have a car and had to take the bus became very stressed to commute because others riders didn’t always wear masks.
“Going through all this, knowing that these people are going through all these different types of trauma, I call just to see how they are making out through this pandemic and like how they are feeling when a lot of them feel the same — isolated, depressed and on top of losing their loved one,” McDaniel said.
As some states begin to reopen and relax social distancing guidelines, life may seem like it’s getting back to “normal,” but several organizations and grief groups around the country say they are hesitant about returning to in-person meetings right away.
McDaniel’s chapter will wait until it is safe to gather at the hospital. For now, the goal seems to be September.
Joanne Weingarten, psychologist and senior clinical coordinator of adult programs for OUR HOUSE Grief Support Center in Los Angeles, said they are also waiting until the fall.