The Virulence of Grief in the Pandemic: Bereavement Overload During COVID

Am J Hosp Palliat Care. 2022 Oct;39(10):1244-1249. doi: 10.1177/10499091211057094. Epub 2021 Dec 9.


The COVID-19 pandemic brought about bereavement overload as a risk factor for complicated grief. Bereavement overload (BO) describes individuals' reactions to losses transpiring in a quick succession, without the time and opportunity for coping [9]. It can occur during catastrophic events and impact everyone experiencing the loss.With the high death toll from COVID-19, many people have lost multiple loved ones followed by an abbreviated grieving process due to the nature of the pandemic. This can have psychosocial impact on survivors for years. One of the evolving roles of Palliative Care within and after the pandemic should be to recognize those suffering from BO. Obtaining loss histories may identify those at risk of pathologic grief to provide preventive bereavement care.We present three cases encountered in our health system during the COVID-19 pandemic amongst a family member, a patient, and a healthcare provider. In each case the Palliative Care Team worked closely with these individuals to identify COVID-associated BO and helped them reconcile their unresolved grief to be able to move forward. These cases reflect only a fraction of those who experienced loss during the pandemic, but they illustrate how grief can be complicated by the pandemic for everyone involved.Palliative Care will have a crucial role moving forward, in treating the pandemic of complicated grief within the pandemic to adapt to the needs of all survivors, as we realize the effects of COVID will last long after its virulence has waned.

Keywords: bereavement; bereavement overload; compassion fatigue; covid; grief; loss history; pandemic.

MeSH terms

  • Bereavement*
  • COVID-19*
  • Grief
  • Humans
  • Pandemics
  • Virulence