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Red Cross launches Virtual Family Assistance Center to help families find closure and grieve

Grieving the unforeseen death of a loved one can be an uphill battle for anyone, especially during a global crisis.

That is why the American Red Cross created the Virtual Family Assistance Center to support families who are struggling with a loss during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

“This is an incredibly difficult time for everyone, but especially for those who have lost a loved one due to COVID-19,” said Louise Welch-Williams, the regional chief executive officer of the Red Cross of South Carolina.

“Not only have these families experienced the unexpected passing of a loved one, but they are also facing additional challenges caused by this public health emergency. We want them to know that the Red Cross is here to provide compassion and support as they grieve.”

Krissi Raines, a mental health therapist and first-aid instructor, said anxiety caused by isolation and loss can exacerbate someone’s mental health issues. She cited people losing jobs, family members and friends as examples of losses that could affect one’s mental health, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. Not being able to grieve properly and have a sense of closure with their loved ones can drastically affect their mental health, she said.

Raines shared that a young man — who was a friend — suddenly died from cancer about two weeks ago. The young man’s mother disclosed to her that it had been difficult for her to live in isolation, particularly with her son being ill. Even with hospitals restricting access to a lot of visitors, the young man’s mother was able to be with him during his final moments because he wasn’t dying from the novel coronavirus.

Since the man served in the military, he will be buried with honors at the end of the summer. Only 10 people will be permitted to attend the service because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Raines said it is difficult for families to have closure and grieve now because they can’t travel and funeral restrictions are preventing them from seeing their loved ones.

“We can’t do the usual things that we do as far as visiting each other, going outside of our houses and having (funeral) services because of COVID-19,” she said. “It’s hard enough to grieve a loved one, but to have additional stressors on top of that and not having your loved ones nearby, then it becomes even more difficult.”

To help with the grieving and closure process — from a distance — the Red Cross’ virtual team of specially trained mental health, spiritual care and health services volunteers will be:

Connecting with families over the phone to offer condolences, support and access to resources that might be available.

Providing support for virtual memorial services for families, including connecting with local faith-based community partners.

Hosting online classes to foster resilience and facilitate coping skills.

Sharing information and referrals to state and local agencies as well as other community organizations including legal resources for estate, custody, immigration or other issues.

All Family Assistance Center support will be provided virtually and is confidential and free. People can visit redcross.org/get-help to access a support hub with special virtual programs, information, referrals and services. The hub will also connect people to other community resources and partners. People without internet access can call 833-492-0094 for help.

Raines recommends that people listen to their bodies. She said people should be developing an understanding of their brain, an understanding of trauma, getting extra rest and staying engaged with people either through phone or FaceTime calls. She suggests people use Zoom as well, because there are support groups that host meetings using the application since they cannot physically be together.

Taking vitamins and eating well are also important because doing so helps promote proper brain function and produces the right chemicals in the brain, she said.

Contact reporter Jonathan Limehouse at 864-943-5644 or follow him on Twitter @jon_limehouse.

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Coronavirus (COVID-19)

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