The other day, I heard someone on the radio say,
“Welcome to the club that no one wants to join”. He was talking about the current Covid-19 situation but his words really struck me because they were exactly those that were used when I joined The Compassionate Friends organisation shortly after James died in 2005. For those of you who don’t know, The Compassionate Friends (TCF) is an organisation that supports bereaved parents, grandparents and siblings after the loss of a child, of any age, in any circumstances. TCF was a lifeline for me in those early weeks and months and my association with it continues, as do several deep friendships made through my membership.
There is no doubt that the Covid-19 pandemic is analogous with grief. We are not talking about an individual’s grief, but a collective grief that spans the world. Rarely has there been such a leveller, that sees multi-millionaires and those living hand to mouth in identical fear of the whisper of the breath of coronavirus. None of us know the outcome, or can predict it, and that makes us fearful.
C S Lewis said, “No-one told me that grief felt so like fear” and the combination of mourning for our lives pre-Covid and the uncertain future we are all facing is indeed grievous and fearful. Our complacency has been shaken up; our faith rocked, our foundations have become slippery shale instead of steady ground. And it is tough to live through.
But, where would we be without positivity and resilience to drive us forward? Living in the Mourning Light (yes, that is a shameless plug for my book since marketing opportunities are limited right now) deals with a variety of attributes: those of hope, light, faith, resilience, joy, optimism and grace. Now more than ever, we need to gather as much strength as we can from the things that gladden our heart and restore our faith, to find and fortify our optimism for the future.
In pre-Covid times, I would be advocating that we all go off and do things to boost our endorphins, most notably outside and socially. The current rules dictate that we must look indoors for much of our succour. But there are many options to consider; from reading, writing, drawing and painting, to cooking, baking and completing brain puzzles such as crosswords, jigsaws and Sudoku. Our daily exercise is an opportunity to reconnect with nature, photograph the colours in our environment and have time to think, uninterrupted by the usual noise and clamour.
The internet offers many opportunities for virtual socialising, from quizzes to barbecues. I have been enjoying virtual church services with Zoom coffee chats afterwards, and an on-line retreat.
Shaun and I are lucky to live in an area where we have lovely walks from our doorstep, and we make the most of the opportunities to enjoy fine weather. I feel I have a new appreciation for my home comforts, too. Home is our refuge and the place where we need to feel safe. I remember when we lived in Addlestone, in the early days after losing James, that coming home from outings or time away was hard. Home had become the place where we learned that something terrible had happened to him, and it took a long time to get past that feeling. Thankfully this is not part of my Covid grief.
It is no coincidence that I have illustrated this blog post with images of stiles. Simple in design, stiles simultaneously represent a barrier and an access point. Traversing a stile can be a bit like moving forward, in grief terms. First of all, you clamber up one side of the obstacle, which can be difficult in itself. There’s a balance point at the top; often this is where I hold on to the post and pause a moment to take in the views around me, enjoying being higher off the ground than usual and reflecting on a feeling of freedom. Then there’s the somewhat ungainly hook of the legs over to the other side. As I step down and feel the solid ground beneath my feet once again, I feel a sense of achievement and readiness to move forward. In stepping down, the pressure that I feel at the back of my kneecaps, not really pain, but a feeling of pressure, reminds me of how grief mellows from visceral hurt in every nerve and muscle to a quiet awareness that is bearable – most of the time.
The pandemic has undoubtedly stirred up my personal grief rollercoaster. The daily news bulletins and dreadful sadness of those who are mourning people cruelly taken by this wicked disease, revive familiar feelings of loss and sadness. I weep for those families so affected and for the families who cannot carry out the usual observances and rituals following a death.
The anxiety of grief is present for most of us now. We need to be able to take control of the threat of Covid. Our ways of doing this are simple enough – to keep washing our hands, social distancing and mixing with as few people as possible. But even when we are doing what we are told are the right things, we still have the anticipatory grief, the concern that we could so easily lose someone we love, or be taken ourselves. It is very hard to find the balance here. I find the only way I can succeed in doing this is by taking each day as it comes; a familiar tactic to those who are newly bereaved.
Grief is never simple. Its complexities vary with each individual scenario and we are not automatically equipped with the right tools to deal with all its nuances in these uncertain Covid times. Acknowledging that we are grieving for our old life is useful, and it helps not to dwell too much on all the cancelled dates on the calendar.
I would like to ask Covid-19 – I wonder how you feel about your global impact? Did you know you would stop us in our tracks? Did you know you would turn our world upside down? Your dark identity impacts upon us like a sudden death.
Today, I sometimes find myself debating whether significant events happened BJ or AJ. (Before James/after James). Now that almost fifteen years have elapsed since he died, there can be a blurring between the before and after and I can’t always remember. I hope that the time will come when I can feel the same about Covid. Did that happen BL or AL (before lockdown/after lockdown?)
Some positives that come out of this time for many of us are a renewed sense of community, more time to evaluate the beauty of the world around us, and an appreciation for the simpler things that we took for granted before. Stay safe, everyone.