Coronavirus: `Grieving in the Time of COVID-19,′ Jacksonville hospice center offers virtual group healing
Community Hospice & Palliative Care is conducting online sessions for people grieving during the coronavirus pandemic.

By: Matt Soergel, The Florida Times-Union

It can be a difficult, long road ahead for anyone mourning the loss of someone they love, says Katie McConnell.

Add in the isolation and stress of a global pandemic, and finding solace can be even tougher, even more distant.

“You’re already so unsteady and so vulnerable within your grief experience, your loss. Then there’s this other collective grief we’re all feeling — the loss of normalcy, the loss of physical contact within our friend system, the loss of jobs, of income,” she said. “That just exacerbates the loss we’re feeling as grievers.”

McConnell is a bereavement counselor at Community Hospice & Palliative Care in Jacksonville, which on Friday will offer a free virtual group session, called “Grieving in the Time of COVID-19,” to discuss that sense of loss.

The session is from 2 to 3 p.m. Other sessions are scheduled for April 28 and 30. To enroll go to or call (904) 407-6464.

The pandemic has changed everything for those going through the grieving process, McConnell said.

People dealing with loss often tap into a natural support system of friends, family or church. They perhaps find comfort going to the gym, the garden club or volunteering.

Now even seeing grown children or grandchildren in person is often off-limits or severely restricted due to concerns of contagion.

And for those who have had a loved one die during the pandemic, even memorial services have been postponed or limited to just a few family members.

“That’s such an important part of being with other grievers, being able to share that sorrow, support one another, share stories, reminisce, just feel held up by one another,” McConell said.

These days even a gesture as simple as a hug can be rare or nonexistent.

“This particular experience with the pandemic is really exacerbating all of the feelings they are already having,” McConnell said. “Grief and loss and anxiety has really become harder for them because of the isolation, and just not having their person here anymore.”

On any given day Community Hospice has 1,300 patients in end-of-life care across 16 counties in Northeast Florida.

During the online sessions, the organization’s bereavement department will show a PowerPoint presentation and open up a discussion to those who want to type in questions. Attendees can also choose to just listen and be anonymous.

McConnell said the aim is to let people know they’re not alone and to stress that grief isn’t just an emotional response.

It can also affect someone’s ability to sleep, to concentrate, to accomplish even simple tasks, to perform at work. It can even lead to physical pain, including a tightness in the chest and muscle pain.

“Grief,” McConnell said, “is just really exhausting — physically, emotionally and mentally.”

She said she’s impressed though by the resilience she’s seen in her clients, many of whom have turned to technology — online chats, online book clubs and the like — to have some of the human contact they crave.

Even many older clients, who perhaps were once resistant to the appeal of modern technology, have become recent experts in online chatting, she said.

“Something about this time — it is bringing people together,” McConnell said. “Even in that aloneness, they’re finding connection.”

Burke Moore, a retired Jacksonville sheriff’s officer after almost 30 years, said bereavement counseling is all about making connections with others. He’s a counselor with hospice’s Camp Healing Powers for children who have had someone close to them die.

He went through much grief when he was young: He was 11 when walking home from vacation Bible school he saw a pickup truck strike and kill his 8-year-old sister. And he was just 19 when his mother died.

“What we need most, in the hardest time of our lives, is to feel that we’re loved, we belong and we’re recognized,” Moore said. “It’s about being part of something bigger, and now the people we need the most can’t be around us for the most part. This pandemic, it doesn’t make any sense. It can’t make any sense.”