COVID-19 and Grief

Grief support center goes online to help New Mexicans, especially immigrants, cope with loss, COVID-19 pandemic

>>> Leer en español 

Karla Colindres started attending meetings at Gerard's House about nine months ago, when her second child was practically a newborn and her first child a toddler. Colindres was brand new to the United States as well—she had recently immigrated from Guatemala, seeking asylum with her children.

The stresses of the journey and being a mom in a strange place without much support from family and friends left her depressed, she says. That's when someone recommended Gerard's House. .

Gerard's House, which hosts grief support groups, gathers young immigrants and young immigrant mothers for a targeted program called Nuestra Jornada, or "Our Journey."

At first, Colindres was hesitant to go to the meetings. She feared accepting help would mean being deported as her asylum case worked its way through the courts. But the meetings immediately helped her, both mentally and emotionally.

"When I started going to Gerard's House to spend time with other moms, talk about our experiences, it is like we all understood each other there, because we had gone through similar processes," Colindres tells SFR in Spanish.

But COVID-19 has stopped in-person meetings for the foreseeable future at Gerard's House. The lack of in-person contact has been hard for everyone in the program. Young immigrant mothers like Colindres, who are often far from family support and unable to get help from the government as the pandemic ravages the economy, face additional difficulties.

Before the pandemic, Gerard's House facilitated 10 groups in local schools. In 2019, the organization served 221 kids, 22 teen moms, 103 adult referrals and 76 youth referrals, along with 32 adults in a Spanish language grief support group.

COVID-19 limited some of the programs and others went completely online as Gerard's House adapted to public health restrictions. Since the pandemic, there are five Zoom online groups, one adult group and one young parents group. The organization now offers one-on-one Zoom calls and money to help families and individuals get through the economic fallout from statewide stay-at-home orders.

Colindres and her husband are one of those families helped financially. They both lost their jobs and have barely been able to make rent for several months.

"They have helped me with supplies that they gave in May, diapers for my baby and also Target gift cards," Colindres says. "They helped me move into [an apartment] with a $450 deposit," she says.

Trying to work and live through a pandemic is hard enough but everyday difficulties become twice as challenging as an undocumented immigrant, says Roxana Melendez, the Nuestra Jornada program director.

"They were already struggling with different things, such as basic needs and the changing immigration laws and… a lot of the moms actually that I'm currently working with are asylum seekers and with that there's always a lot of change, uncertainty," Melendez tells SFR.

But Melendez and the other staff members have been leaning in to video conferencing technology, calling the participants in between online meetings and creating WhatsApp groups.

But the lack of internet for low-income or immigrant families is a major obstacle to Gerard's House supporting people with grief.

"A lot of our staff support has gone towards doing tech support for people…a lot of the needs assessments before we started with the actual virtual grief support groups were getting people hooked up to the Comcast Internet Essentials and then there's those families that live out in La Cienega and Comcast isn't out there and the only option is satellite, which is, at its cheapest, $140 a month," says Maggie Boyle, Nuestra Jornada program coordinator at Gerard's House.

Boyle tells SFR that a lot of the programming for Nuestra Jornada has turned toward helping people deal with the pandemic, which has exacerbated trauma for a lot of immigrants.

"We talk a lot about the pandemic and normalize the fact that for people who are already missing someone, to now be cut off and not be able to see your friends and family or not be able to go to school or the loss of your routine or the loss of your parents, jobs, that… really exacerbates the grief that they already experiencing," Boyle says.

But grief, job loss, eviction, none of it has stopped the Nuestra Jornada community from stepping in to help each other in major ways, according to Melendez.

"A lot of them came walking through a desert, experiencing things that I can't even imagine," Melendez says. "Just to see how they're here and how they're still positive, they're still smiling. They're looking for ways to better their lives, to better their children's lives. To me, that's resiliency."

Letters to the Editor

Mail letters to PO Box 4910 Santa Fe, NM 87502 or email them to editor[at] Letters (no more than 200 words) should refer to specific articles in the Reporter. Letters will be edited for space and clarity.

We also welcome you to follow SFR on social media (on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter) and comment there. You can also email specific staff members from our contact page.