A National Grief Strategy: The Time Is Now

COVID-19 is affecting how we live and how we grieve. The public health restrictions in place to contain the virus, while absolutely necessary to flatten the curve, have affected the grief experience of the families of more than 660,000 Americans who have died of COVID-19 thus far, and of the thousands of others who have died of other causes during the restrictions. Also affected are those facing a life-limiting illness while alone, those grieving an expected death of someone they cannot visit, and those grieving a death that occurred before the pandemic. As we are realizing that COVID-19 is here to stay, we are recognizing its impact on how we grieve: the visiting and goodbyes that didn’t occur, the family gatherings that weren’t allowed, the funeral rites limited or delayed, the grief suffered in isolation. Many more people will be affected in the weeks ahead, which is why we are putting out an urgent call for an increase in grief literacy and understanding.

We are asking leaders in grief and bereavement care in the United States to join together with the Social Work Hospice and Palliative Care Network (SWHPN) to advocate for the development of a comprehensive plan to support and expand grief services and resources throughout the country. We want to proactively identify and address the health and mental health effects of grief due to the COVID-19 pandemic. We are basing these recommendations heavily on the National Grief Strategy put out on May 13, 2020 by the Canadian Virtual Hospice and Canadian Grief Alliance, and owe them a debt of gratitude for developing such a caring and considerate message for a unified response to support people in their grief during this time.

Specifically, our plan calls for the following five pillars to support a comprehensive National Grief Strategy:
  1. Creation and development of a comprehensive National Grief Strategy to guide the expansion of grief services and resources to support Americans during this time, which builds on existing programs, identifies priorities, and outlines an implementation plan;
  2. Investment in the expansion of services and resources that leverage technology and best practices to expand the mental health and emotional/caregiving capacity to meet the burgeoning needs of grieving Americans, with the recognition that the development of such services must take into account and respect the specific cultural, racial, gender, and community-based differences experienced by different groups of Americans;
  3. Investment in the creation of services to support the retention of highly qualified healthcare and mental health care personnel by proactively attending to work-related grief and trauma;
  4. Promote awareness and education for accessing services and resources, promoting grief literacy, and building resiliency; and
  5. Rapidly scaling up research capacity to better equip our health providers, families, and communities, to better respond to the evolving, long-term grief/bereavement needs resulting from the pandemic.

We need your support. Please add your name to the growing list of people and organizations making the support of grieving Americans a priority here. We are stronger together, and we welcome your input as we work to create a more compassionate and caring response to help support all Americans grieving during this difficult time.

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