“Life is difficult. This is a great truth, one of the greatest truths. It is a great truth because once we truly see this truth, we transcend it. Once we truly know that life is difficult-once we truly understand and accept it-then life is no longer difficult. Because once it is accepted, the fact that life is difficult no longer matters.”
― M. Scott Peck
When I went out on my Corona Camera walk the other day, I was thinking of M Scott Peck’s book, ‘The Road Less Travelled’. I was indeed walking along a road close to home that is now less travelled. It is aptly named ‘Windwhistle Lane’ and I can attest that in the winter, yes, it certainly does. And I can’t help but think that the road we were all travelling pre pandemic now stands behind us as an easy highway. The new road, the one less travelled, offers us opportunities to reach destinations we had never even thought of; in terms of how we will emerge after it is all over. We are heading for another ‘new normality’, an expression that is being bandied about quite a bit at the moment. It is one that will be familiar to almost every griever. When you lose someone you love, you are immediately thrown into uncharted territory. You have to learn pretty quickly how to present your ‘new normal’ face to the world. My experience is that people expect to see this visage relatively quickly. They find it easier to cope with someone they recognise as being a reasonable facsimile of the person they knew before.
But, is this way of being, the way we are living now with Covid-19, our new normality?
It is normal for today and tomorrow, but please God it will not be normal in six months’ time!
It is remarkable how quickly, with stoic resilience, we are adjusting to the restrictions placed upon us. (Well, the majority of us, anyway). The things I miss are likely to be the things that everyone misses – family and social interaction, hugs, lunch with friends, a jaunt to the pub, a meal out, a stroll round town or at the coast … the list is long. But I accept that it is necessary and sensible to take on board the things we must do to ensure our future. The message is clear enough:
By staying home and doing what we are told for as long as it takes, we can each become a life saver.
Today, all those things that we took for granted yesterday seem especially wonderful! –
We hardly thought, did we, about planning holidays abroad, both near and far, or jumping in the car and driving off to visit family and friends … these things will be more precious, more appreciated perhaps, in the future.
I wonder if we will all have a new attitude of gratitude, or will we soon slip back into our hedonistic, self-serving ways? I hope for the former.
There are positives to our new normal – some of them quite unexpected. Having certainties in our future makes us lazy. We procrastinate because ‘there’s always tomorrow’ – but when tomorrow becomes less definite, we have to step up to the plate and do those things that we were putting off. Cupboards are de-cluttered, lawns cut, painting and decorating under way and gardens ferociously weeded.
It may be helpful to adopt a few life-affirming thoughts at a time when we are grieving for our pre-Covid-19 lives:
- I will and I can achieve new normality when the pandemic is over
- My life is different but I am still standing, still functioning
- My identity is new: I am not the same as before. The pandemic is part of me, but my old self is still there too.
Anyone who has read some of my writing will know that I often challenge the linear nature of Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’s ‘five stages of grief’. The stages originally described the feelings and emotions of terminally ill patients and they have been adapted to form the DABDA model (Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance).
I am revisiting these categories again relative to the pandemic:
Denial: Denial is protective, in grief terms. It allows you to process loss and absorb shock, particularly in the early stages. Denial creates a way of living that is preferable to reality as it is less painful. But denial is not so helpful in this situation. We are so bombarded with edicts and warnings from the government that it is difficult to exist in a state of denial. I am sure I am not alone in finding that I can only tolerate a small amount of the daily updates; just sufficient to know what is the current state of play.
Anger: It is futile to be angry about the origin of coronavirus, just as it is futile to be angry when our loved ones die. But we may find it helpful to express and dissipate anger by physical means, using exercise to clear our heads of negativity. Anger, in itself, can turn us into crusaders, against whatever is making us angry and it has the flavour of reality about it rather than being a nebulous concept.
We have a choice with anger; we can choose to channel it positively.
Bargaining: the concept of bargaining offers false hope that you can change events through your will, for example, “Dear God, if you make sure I don’t get coronavirus I will never complain again …” is asking an awful lot on both sides!
Trying to bargain like this is a natural quest for pre-Covid 19 normality, but it may be more comfortable to adopt a fatalistic stance and utilise our inborn hope and the faith we possess to see us through the darkest times until we come out into the light again. (Yes, I know that sounds very familiar!)
Depression: If you have ever suffered from depression you will know how it saps colour from life. There is no doubt that the restrictions and turbulent times during this pandemic will have an effect on our mental wellness and stability. If you are not depressed and simply trying to cope day by day, trying to keep a positive mindset and using the many resources available will help.
Clinical depression requires professional intervention and if you are truly depressed you cannot simply ‘pull yourself together’.
Acceptance: Coming to terms, assimilating and living with are all expressions that I accord to my own particular and personal grief following the loss of James. I have often said and written before that I do not believe any bereaved parent can ever truly accept the loss of a child.
In the case of Covid-19 I believe we will all come to accept that the pandemic affected each and every one of us, resulting in grief for the life we used to live.
For most of us, we will move forward, growing, learning and evolving in the new normality that is our post Covid reality.
Grief never stops, but it abates, and when you realise you can smile and laugh and interact again without feeling guilt or remorse or sadness, you have truly arrived at your new normal.
Stay safe everyone.
Stay home. Protect the NHS. Save lives.