I wonder how many of you have thought about death over the past year. Before March 2020, death hardly crossed our minds, but the pandemic quickly changed that, and it’s likely, very sadly, that you or someone you know will have been bereaved since restrictions began.

When we combine the coronavirus deaths with the usual deaths per annum and additional deaths from reduced healthcare, our country is now, alarmingly, experiencing a tsunami of grief’, with 1:4 people having lost loved ones since the start of the pandemic, all in traumatic circumstances.

At the best of times bereavement can be devastating: it presents a host of challenges that affect every area of life, often causing able people to become dysfunctional and to lose hope. For anyone bereaved during the pandemic, restrictions will have seriously exacerbated this pain. A large number of bereaved people have not been able to see loved ones before they died, say goodbye, attend a funeral or receive comfort from family and friends, and so have been left with their grief journey put on hold.

Grief is a necessary human response to loss, and bereavement needs to be processed for healing to be reached. Unsupported grief can lead to depression or other negative outcomes, such as relationship breakdown, loss of employment or addiction. In fact, many of the problems in our society stem from unprocessed grief, as community support has waned. James 1:27 describes the kind of church that is acceptable to God as looking after widows and orphans in their distress”, and Isaiah 53:3 depicts Jesus as a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief”. Bereavement support is without doubt our calling as Christians, and never in our lifetime has it been needed more.


However, there’s a problem. I have been involved in bereavement support now for almost 10 years. My husband died suddenly in 2008 when I was a church leader working in mission. Like many other bereaved people, my life gradually fell apart. I was lonely and fearful, I lost my appetite, I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t concentrate, I lost my confidence, and I descended into despair. Church and my faith should have been the greatest source of help, but two things surprised me. The first was how grieving made me question my beliefs, and how uncomfortable church can be. The second was how little those around me knew about what I was going through and how to help.

I soon discovered that this experience is common for those bereaved – that bereaved people naturally asking the big questions of life can feel especially isolated and alien in church. It became apparent that if we could better understand and support grieving people and provide an environment where they felt welcomed and at home, it would not be difficult to see thousands of new people become part of the life of the church, as well as prevent others from leaving through the back door. This has been my ministry ever since.

The pandemic has now made this so much more important. Through initiative Loss and HOPE (los​sand​hope​.org), I’m involved with ecumenical church leaders in equipping churches in bereavement support. We have gathered training, resources and ideas to enable Christians across the country to learn how to come alongside bereaved people and to provide the welcome, understanding and help they so need. In particular, we are encouraging churches to run The Bereavement Journey (the​be​reave​men​tjour​ney​.org), a series of films and discussion groups (online or in person) to enable bereaved people to process their loss, and in an optional session to consider faith.

Everything that’s needed is available to make it easy for churches to run, even publicity through a nationwide signposting website, ataloss​.org. Our hope is that churches across the land will now provide the community support that our country in mourning so very much needs.