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‘Loneliness pandemic’: How widows are dealing with grief amid COVID-19

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    TORONTO, Ontario (CTV News) — While studies and polls have show that loneliness and social isolation due to the COVID-19 pandemic are on the rise in Canada, an Ont. woman says widows are among those struggling the most as they’re having to deal with grieving alone.

Susan Kendal became a widow in 2014 when her 54-year-old husband Neil died from a sudden heart attack. Following Neil’s death, Kendal lost her father and then two of her brothers, all within the span of a couple years she describes as “a whirlwind of death.”

Kendal explained in an interview on Wednesday that COVID-19 restrictions have forced her, and other widows, to grieve at home and alone.

“We’re more socially isolated than we have ever been in the past, and it’s difficult because there are always moments and memories and music and things that just make us want to talk and speak out, and there’s no one really there for us,” Kendal told CTV’s Your Morning.

In an effort to deal with her loneliness, Kendal says she turned to social media for support and found that many others were doing the same.

In March 2020, Kendal decided to launch an online widow support group through Facebook and Instagram to help others in a similar situation amid COVID-19.

The group, called Evolve for Widows, is described as “a community of widows who are ready for life again; women who have been to the edge of darkness but refused to jump. Women who need one-another for encouragement, love and the occasional pep talk,” according to its official website.

“I began this group so I can help others move forward in their journey,” Kendal said.

She explained that grief has no timeline, and it can last anywhere from a few months to many years. The issue, Kendal says, is that family and friends of widows eventually get to a point where they no longer want to hear or talk about this grief.

“Most people have been shut down by family, and friends, and colleagues because they’ve been told, ‘It’s time to stop grieving, it’s time to move on,’ which people think is the right thing to say, but in fact it’s blown up this entire underground on social media where people are grieving,” Kendal said.

She said this is concerning as only having strangers to message through a computer screen can feel “very isolating” for widows and inadvertently cause a “loneliness pandemic.”

“[Widows] need to speak out and need to have their memories and their loved ones remembered,” Kendal said.

To help combat this, Kendal says there needs to be more understanding and education for friends and families of widows. While online support groups help, she said it would mean more if widows could have those conversations with their loved ones.

“When someone is grieving, whether it’s six months in, a year, or 20 years in, they’re still going to need someone to talk to, either to talk about the memories to keep that person that they loved alive, or to talk about their emotional experiences,” Kendal said.

Kendal said people tend to “shy away” from topics involving sickness and death because they are uncomfortable to talk about. However, she says being more open about death in conversations with adults and even children will help address the stigma around grief.

“I think it’s time to bring out the largest, greatest taboo which affects everyone in the world at one point — usually five times in the lifetime — and that’s death, because we shouldn’t be talking to strangers, we should be talking to those that love us and know us,” Kendal said.

“It doesn’t matter how far along you are, there’s still triggers, and instead of shutting us down and making us go and talk to strangers, let us be allowed and encouraged to talk to the ones we know and love,” she added.

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ctvnews.caproducers@bellmedia.ca

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