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Healing from COVID: Loss support groups helping loved ones cope with death

Support groups on social media platforms are on the rise, helping grieving friends and family find community.

ATLANTA — As the COVID-19 pandemic surges on, support groups are forming for people who have lost loved ones to the virus.

“My father was an amazing man,” said Angelina Proia. “He was 66 and healthy. He had run a marathon in the last five years. He was a kind, gentle funny man, and he didn't deserve to die from COVID.”

After the death of her father, Proia started a Facebook support group for people who have lost loved ones to COVID-19. 

“The grief process in terms of losing someone to COVID is so complicated and different than a normal grief process,” she said. “You're not able to be with your loved ones before they die. A lot of us didn't get viewings for our loved ones. And it felt so lonely and unrelatable.”

In a few months the group grew from a handful of members to over 1,500.

“We can relate to these little nuance things, that people who haven't lost someone to COVID may not understand,” Proia said. “You have all these what if questions, what if I put them on the ventilator sooner? What if I did this? What if I did that? And there's a lot of comfort in knowing that other people have those same questions and those same doubts.”

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Several US hospital and healthcare systems have launched coronavirus support groups.

“We launched support groups that were free mental health support,” said Alyssa Petersel, CEO of MyWellBeing.com “A lot of the leading scholars are anticipating that while COVID is an international physical health pandemic, a mental health or emotional pandemic is just behind it.”

Finding community, Petersel said, is critical for people who are suffering.

“Finding a support group of like-minded peers have been through something similar can be really empowering,” she said.

The message Proia hopes to convey to others reeling from loss: you are not alone.

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“This is a unique way of grieving. And you may find that you need support and it's okay to get it to talk to other people who have the shared experience of losing someone to COVID,” she said.

“I'm sure that my father is very happy that we've been able to provide comfort to other people. And he's very happy that I'm able to get comfort from other people with this group. Yes. Absolutely.”