COVID-19 Loss Grief Counseling
By Dianne Anderson
Sickness and disease, and saying goodbye to loved ones have been a next-level reality check for the community, but Juanita Matthews is no stranger to grief.
Her foundation was developed out of her own past devastation, and became the basis for how she is now helping others get through their most difficult seasons.
“Major life changes, people in prison, people in hospitals, deaths where you can’t go to see their remains. There’s so many things that emerged with the pandemic — issues that we didn’t have before,” said Matthews, Co-Founder of Springs of Hope Grief Care Center in Long Beach.
She said the center turns no one away from free counseling.
Locally, grieving is peaking. Her office was shut down since March 2020, but reopened earlier this year.
Calls are coming in from people dealing with terminal diagnoses, or other life-changing events. Some are losing their homes or jobs. With the community so overwhelmed, she said they provide safe emotional spaces to connect one on one through phone calls, or group through their virtual platform.
Nationwide, as of August 18, the CDC reports deaths hit a new high with the Delta variant, at 1,017 deaths per day, or about 43 COVID-19 deaths per hour, and Blacks are disproportionately represented.
“We just encourage people to call us and say I need help,” she said. “We just want people to know that there’s hope available. I’ve gone to people’s homes and met people in different places just to give them a word of hope.”
Isolation has also worsened through COVID, and she worries about the Black youth. Studies show suicide has been going down for whites during the pandemic, but increasing in the Black community. By now, most people know someone who has died from the virus.
“Basically you’re left to your emotions and own weaknesses, everybody needs help. People are losing hope given the political climate. They say who is going to help us?” she said.
Years ago, her son and his three children were murdered, which started her and husband Larry to help others cope with crippling grief. That process includes multiple phases of healing, she said, most of which is overcoming evil with good.
“You have to work your way through all the shades of grief. We created the nonprofit to help other parents, who think they can’t ever think straight again. [It was] based on own horrible tragedy, and discovering a purpose for our pain,” she said.
Through March of this year, the health impact of death in the community from COVID-19 alone has been twice as hard on Blacks as in the white community.
“73,236 Black Americans are known to have lost their lives to COVID-19 through Tuesday, March 2. There were 10,029 new deaths reported among Black Americans since our last report four weeks earlier, which is a significant acceleration of losses over the preceding four weeks (7,627). Nationwide, Black Americans have experienced 14.9% of all deaths of known race, but represent 12.4% of the population,” according to a recent Color of Coronavirus study by the APM Research Lab.
Considering the high rate, Black health organizations are frustrated with the continued hesitancy in the community.
Looking at the data, Rhonda Smith said most of the cases cropping up and deaths are related to the Delta variant, and specifically for the unvaccinated.
“I don’t have the silver bullet solution. We’re trying to figure out how we can communicate that can have the impact and drive behavior change,” said Smith, executive director of the California Black Health Network.
Recently, she said CBHN was delighted to host Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett, the lead Black scientist on the Moderna vaccine, as a guest on her webinar, and she talked about how and why the vaccine works.
Of all the vaccines in history, Smith said it’s interesting to note that there was much more diversity in the clinical trials than in any other clinical trials.
Through education, policy initiatives, and outreach, CBHN is pushing for partnerships to help deliver equitable health care, and a multi-year plan to address health disparities for Black people in California. They are also set to increase education and outreach at local levels statewide with recent funding to address health equity, disparities and vaccine hesitancy.
All by itself, life expectancy is shortened for Blacks, now dying nationally much earlier than when the pandemic started.
The CDC risk report, updated in July, says that Blacks are hospitalized 2.8 times that of whites, and are dying at 2 times the rate of whites with COVID-19.
“We know that COVID has had a devastating effect on what was already a great disparity, almost a six-year difference in terms of life expectancy for Black Californians,” Smith said.
But she understands it will take time and effort to change minds around misinformation that dominates social media, and is aimed at dissuading the community from the vaccine.
“For some reason, people think the vaccine does all these harmful things to them more so than what COVID can do to them. I don’t understand that rationale, other than people are buying into what’s communicated on [social media] that’s not fact based,” she said.
To get involved with California Black Health Network, see
For help with grief from loss, call 562-472-2635 or see www.springsofhopegcc.com