The Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Grieving

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Rita M. Rivera, B.S.

The world is experiencing a communal sense of grief. Individuals across the globe have lost family members, friends, and loved ones to the novel coronavirus. Moreover, sanitary regulations and health practices enforced by different organizational authorities and governments are interrupting individuals’ bereavement process. Many cultures can no longer perform rituals and celebrations due to the strict policies of disposing of or cremating the bodies of COVID-19 patients. This may not only be interrupting people’s grieving process but also exacerbating mental health issues, such as depression and anxiety. Bereavement is a difficult transition and process on its own. However, the COVID-19 pandemic may be transforming grief into a collective traumatic experience.

Denise Carballea, B.A.

Frontline workers, such as doctors, nurses, and medical personnel, have been exposed to a continuous pattern of death since the onset of the pandemic. These individuals have observed the loss of thousands of patients and, in many cases, frontline workers are the only people allowed to be with coronavirus patients during their final moments. In addition to this, the social process of grief is interrupted when family members and loved ones are unable to comfort or care for the patients. This inability to say goodbye can also give rise to distress, grief, anxiety, and guilt. These are all conditions that can lead to depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (Lannen et al., 2008).

Furthermore, the cultural identity of many individuals is attached to traditions and rituals performed in honor of the deaths of their loved ones. Social distancing regulations prevent families from coming together and comforting each other. In many countries, such as Honduras, traditional funerals are not allowed. Health care professionals relocate and bury bodies in order to avoid transmission of the coronavirus. In other places, ceremonies such as wakes have been conducted remotely via phone or video calls. What was once considered sacred and essential elements of the grieving process have now been substituted with virtual experiences.

Burial ceremonies and traditions can have a therapeutic effect on individuals. Research has shown that these rituals can help people cope with the death of a loved one (Bosley & Cook, 2008; Mitima-Verloop et al., 2019). For many individuals, these events are the only opportunity to bid farewell to their loved ones, as well as an occasion to receive social support for a shared loss with family and friends. Nonetheless, amidst the coronavirus pandemic, many individuals have found themselves socially isolated and grieving through a computer or phone screen. These non-traditional grieving practices may have a detrimental impact on mental health.

For thousands of individuals across the world, the COVID-19 pandemic has not only taken the life of their loved ones, but also interrupted and radically transformed their grieving process. Bereavement is a normal human experience and a natural stage of human development. The novel coronavirus may be transforming what is usually a cathartic process into a traumatic experience for thousands worldwide. In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the grieving process is ever-evolving, posing many questions on how the world’s communal sense of grief has and will continue to be impacted.


Bosley, G.M., & Cook, A.S. (2008). Therapeutic aspects of funeral ritual. Journal of Family Psychotherapy, 4(4).

Lannen, P. K., Wolfe, J., Prigerson, H. G., Onelov, E., & Kreicbergs, U. C. (2008). Unresolved grief in a national sample of bereaved parents: impaired mental and physical health 4 to 9 years later. Journal of Clinical Oncology: Official Journal of the American Society of Clinical Oncology, 26(36), 5870–5876.

Mitima-Verloop, H.B, Mooren, T.T.M., & Boelen, P.A. (2019). Facilitating grief: An exploration of the function of funerals and  rituals in relation to grief reactions .Death Studies.


Rita Michelle Rivera is currently pursuing a Doctorate in Clinical Psychology at Albizu University in Florida. She is a Student Representative for the Florida Psychological Association-Division of Graduate Students, President of the Student Council at Albizu University, and Student Ambassador for APA Division 15 and APA Division 49. Rita is originally from San Pedro Sula, Honduras. Growing up in what is considered one of the most violent cities in the world, Rita became interested in psychology as she observed the impact of violence on mental health. Her current research is focused on psychoneuroendocrinology, depression, and Hispanic populations.

Denise Carballea is pursuing her Doctorate in Clinical Psychology with a concentration in Neuropsychology at Albizu University in Miami, Florida. She is currently the President of the Neuropsychology Club, Vice President of the Students Advocate for Youth Club, and Vice President of the Student Council at Albizu University. The majority of her clinical experience has been focused on working with individuals with cognitive impairments following a brain injury. Her primary areas of research include traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) and Alzheimer’s disease (AD). Professionally, Denise is interested in contributing to the field in areas involving rehabilitation.