Coronavirus and Grief
By Mike Waine
It interests me, in times of particular significance, the choice of language we use to try to reconcile our experiences; past and present. Unsurprisingly, many of us have had no experience of anything quite like what we are going through currently. Many are choosing to use the vocabulary of ‘war’ against an ‘enemy’. This familiarisation seems to encourage some that there are people who have been through this and who know what we are meant to do, when most feel lost and helpless.
At the very least, we are hearing phrases like ‘strange’, ‘unusual’ and ‘unprecedented’ frequently being used. They, in themselves, attempt to categorise something that is inherently without similar occasion to be categorised with. But at least we can put it in a box, lest it run rampant as the unknown, frightening thing that it is.
As far as our individual experience goes, there is lots of ‘change’ going on, with ‘the new normal’ establishing itself for us. These are fair terms, but I want to suggest that there is one familiar structure which could better help us come to terms with our experience at the moment, and subsequently help us cope with it – and that is grief.
For many, grief simply relates to the experience of coping with someone’s death. But grief is a much more complex experience than that. There are lots of parts of life wherein we encounter some kind of ‘mini-death’, the loss of a part of who we are, or have been, or who we hoped to be.
Emma Duncan, a psychotherapist and counselor, offered great insight into the variety of experiences of loss in an interview she gave at a Resound evening service last year (listen here).
I think that we are each going through some part of the grief experience at the moment. For many, there is the sad reality that they have lost someone – be that as a result of the virus or unrelated. For others, the experience of isolation exacerbates the existing grief they were already feeling. There’s nothing quite like isolation to make us remember who might have been with us.
Aside, however, from the tragedy of processing the death of those we love, we have all lost many things during this time.
We have lost some aspect of our freedom. Some of us are better equipped to manage this than others, with a increasing dependence on being tech-savvy to enable us to regain something vaguely akin our usual social interactions. There are those for whom time outside, exercise and social interactions are a hugely important part of maintaining good mental health. Naturally, we hear the rhetoric about it being for the wider good, but this doesn’t make it any easier on the individuals going through those struggles.
Others have lost things that are deeply connected to parts of their identity. That could be your job from which you’ve been furloughed, the football team you’re normally cheering on at the weekend, the class you take which gives you release from the daily grind. Lots of people are missing out on contact with friends and family – the limitations of Zoom becoming clear when you can’t have any physical contact with your parents/children/grandchildren who you miss dearly.
We are all missing things that are important to us and, without the power to resolve that, we are left in the helpless grip of grief.
I want to suggest that to adopt this perspective can help us. Many of us have had to deal with grief in our lives and mechanisms to help us in those situations. When we view our current situation as including aspects of grieving for what we have lost or are missing, we can begin to come to terms with it, and begin to make the most of that ‘missing’ feeling, rather than letting it consume us.
For some, this means holding on tight, acknowledging that this too shall pass and that eventually we’ll be reunited with what we are missing. We can learn from the saying ‘absence makes the heart grow fonder’ and gain a greater appreciation for what we had/ no longer have, that perhaps we took for granted before.
In other situations, it might be more appropriate to find some symbolic way of memorialising or paying tribute to that which we have lost. Allow yourselves to go down memory lane; look at photos, recall stories, listen to songs that remind you of a particular time or place. Sit with the grief of losing that.
When we begin to grieve, we can process some of the pain and frustrations of the lockdown. This won’t make everything hunky dory again, but it can go some way towards easing the struggle of life in isolation.
That is, of course, until we are out again and begin to grieve the loss of lockdown.
But we’ll get on to that in tomorrow’s post…