Anyone who has ever grieved the loss of a loved one knows the importance of normality. When your world feels as though it has been flipped upside down and everything seems as far away from normal as it can get – you crave the simple, mundane things that keep you grounded in your normal life. Things that usually feel routine and uninteresting like doing a grocery shop or going out in public are core parts of the healing process and reminders that your life is still there for you even when everything feels so different.
For those that are going through the process of grieving right now, everything couldn’t be further from normal. A trip to the supermarket or a walk to the park is a stark reminder of how distant and disconnected we all are from each other. Not being able to hug a family member or comfort a grieving friend is so far removed from our notions of humanity that it is painful and traumatic in itself. “If you are grieving the death of a loved one, then the process only becomes more suffocating,” said the Royal Trinity Hospice when discussing the effects of lockdown on grief.
“Connection, though online and at a distance, is truly the way to ease the pain of loss you may be experiencing right now.”
Whether the death of a loved one occurred a long time ago or very recently, a long period of time spent with few distractions and being cut off from the outside world means that we spend more time ruminating. Experiences with grief in the past may bring up unresolved trauma and issues that still affect our way of thinking. I know that personally, unresolved anger and sadness from the death of my father a few years ago reared its ugly head during lockdown.
“Grief is not necessarily something that ever lessens. What’s different is that you think about it less” says Dee Holmes, Senior Practice Consultant at South East Relate, a grief support charity.
It gets easier to cope with grief over time, but this is made much more difficult, no matter how long ago the death occurred, when you are faced with an extended period of time alone with your thoughts. Being held back from your daily life and just waiting for normality to start doesn’t help when you desperately need the mundane aspects of life to return and make you feel like yourself again.
None of this is helped by the intense discourse surrounding death that is circulating so heavily in our daily lives right now. For people that have blocked out thoughts and feelings surrounding death, they are confronted with it in an unusual way. We have become increasingly desensitised to it as the pandemic has gone on. The announcement of the death figures every day with the slow decrease brings with it feelings of relief. We are removed from the fact that each figure represents a person and a family. By celebrating the decrease in deaths every day, the government seems to forget that each of these numbers belonged to someone. In the years and months to come, many people, particularly front-line health workers, may develop some form of PTSD from the pandemic.
The other side to all of this involves people going through the process of grief right now. Many people have been denied access to the support and closure they may need to grieve as funerals were limited to close relatives only. As a result, this grief may be delayed.
Having a great circle of loved ones is often one of the few things that gets us through difficult periods in our lives, and right now, we are all separated physically from those we love. While we can connect with them online, the physical aspect of healing and being able to hug loved ones is simply not there. Cruse Bereavement Care, a charity that specialises in grief support, warned that “bereaved people may have to deal with increased trauma, and may be cut off from some of their usual support network.” I’ve been lucky enough to spend lockdown with family, but I have noticed that my mental health deteriorated without regular access to my friendship support network.
The five stages of grief, as determined by Kubler-Ross and Kessler, are denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. I worry that those experiencing loss right now stay stuck in the process of denial as they become so disconnected from their grief. They may not have been able to visit the hospital, see their loved one before they died or have even attended the funeral. All of this puts a stop to the cycle of grief and makes it much more difficult to carry on with life.
As time goes on, much will be discovered about the devastating effect that lockdown and the pandemic have had on those suffering from grief and loss. Whether you lost a loved one years ago or are experiencing grief right now, reaching out to loved ones is more important than ever. Connection, though online and at a distance, is truly the way to ease the pain of loss you may be experiencing right now.
You can find bereavement support and information on grieving during lockdown here.