Regardless of the circumstance, grief is tough. It is a painful force that soars and collapses over us when we least expect it.
I am no expert, but like far too many others, I lost someone to COVID-19. Here’s what this taught me about mourning in a time of worldwide loss.
I learned that grief does not follow a calendar
Even if we are not familiar with the details, most of us have heard of the “stages of grief”. This vague knowledge is typically supplied by the romanticised loss faced by a main Hollywood character. But even the facts behind these stages do not provide exact dates and times.
Grief is not something we schedule in the diary to deal with at certain slots. Nor can we postpone it or request that it “come back later please and thank you” (tried and failed!).
Grief is not a timetable that must be followed to the letter. It is not something that we can allocate a certain period in which to allow ourselves to react. There is no guarantee as to when you will feel the loss most keenly or perhaps slightly less ferociously.
Grief does not have a final deadline. But it does have periods during which it becomes easier to deal with and eventually these periods do become more and more frequent.
I learned that other people help (and sometimes they don't!)
Sometimes, friends and family members offer the best support and advice. Other times they put their foot in it so badly that you have to laugh (an achievement in itself!). When grief is present in a household it can seem suffocating. The Coronavirus restrictions forced many of us to remain in our mourning homes as we processed our loss. While this did encourage connection with those within our household, cloying grief still lingered in the brick walls we lived in.
Technology proved a support that could be leaned on when required and removed when otherwise desired. It did allow for long distance comfort, but could never replace the physical hugs we sought.
I learned that the path to processing has adapted and we must do so too
I mentioned previously that there is no calendar to grief and I truly mean that. But there is something of a vague schedule to the grieving process. It typically starts with the initial reeling of the loss. Then come the arrangements; often a wake and funeral. And followed by a tentative release from the clutches of days of intense grief. All of this is encompassed throughout by a bittersweet combination of devastation and a celebration of life.
COVID-19 grief is unique. The path is not even the same for those of us who have lost people to the illness because the circumstances change so frequently. As a result those befuddling days were always tinged with the restrictions and global situation.
Nobody enjoys funerals. But when it came down to it, I and many others have discovered that we rely on them for a sense of closure. As human beings we are wired to desire closure. We want to be able to wrap parts of our lives into tidy boxes before attempting to store them neatly at the back of our minds. COVID-19 stole from us final goodbyes, funerals and the traditional mourning process.
We all survived lockdown as a sequence of seemingly never ending similar days. Without the traditional wake and funeral we found ourselves trapped in this grief tinged cycle. We did not have these events to mark the elapsed time and the days passed in a unique cloud.
I learned that grief is horrible
We may as well be put it simply.
I have a wide vocabulary and derive great joy from beautiful words or fancy phrases. But let’s be honest. Grief is utterly horrible.
It is part of life and it is something we all face but it is still awful. I discovered that the effects of grief are both mental and physical. That the exploration of our loss can be both deeply personal or intensely united. I learned that there is no right or wrong way to process your loss. It is different for every single person.
Grief rises and falls like the tide. Ultimately we will learn to ride it out.