With nearly a decades’ worth of experience in bereavement counselling, it is clear to me that there are significant parallels between our journey through COVID-19 and the pathway through loss and grief.
This pandemic started with a sense of pre-loss; when the virus exploded in Wuhan, China we experienced shock and disbelief but it was still far away, and we thought that it wouldn’t affect us here, in our country, in our communities, and in our homes.
All of that changed in a matter of weeks. We watched in nervous anticipation, perhaps some denial and fear as well, as the virus spread dramatically through Europe and across the globe. Then, all of a sudden, it was upon us. We experienced the full gamut of emotions as a country - shock, disbelief, panic; some people felt paralyzed, others were full of anxiety and fear. This is the initial stage of grief and it can last anywhere from a few days to weeks or even months. It is entirely normal to react this way to the loss of a loved one as well as an existential threat.
Then, we moved on to the stage of ‘experiencing the pain’ or the grim reality, which involves feelings of helplessness, a loss of control, frustration, anger, guilt, sadness, worry, loneliness or despair. Most days, we experience a mix of these emotions, depending on the news, whether our families are safe or if we are lucky enough to be able to leave the house and go for a walk or to the park. We’re dealing with financial worries, job loss, and uncertainty over when we can ‘get back to normal.’
Simultaneously, we’re adapting quickly; we’re learning to do things differently and remotely; we’re finding new roles and getting creative; we’re spending more time with our partners and children. Despite the dramatic challenges and new ways of living, we are surviving. Many of us are enjoying aspects of our lives that have been put on hold or long forgotten. We are learning about ourselves and developing new skills, while also recognising that isolation for so long can place great strain on our mental wellbeing. As the restrictions begin to ease, we tentatively look to emerge into a transformed society, even if we are not fully sure what it will be.
I’d like to share a few tips that I have found helpful when thinking about easing back into the world: