by Sophie Stout.
In the news
Yesterday the BBC reported that more than 20,000 people have now died with coronavirus in UK hospitals. We are the fifth country to pass that milestone.
Sadly, I can think of no better time to reflect on what many people may be going through. Our thoughts and hearts go out to those that are suffering.
Processing Grief in a Pandemic
Coronavirus has brought loss into sharp relief on a global, collective level and an intensely personal one.
We’re mourning the loss of livelihoods, of habits, freedoms and assumptions.
In uncertain times, we’re meeting with fresh fears for the safety of ourselves and the people we love. There are unanswered questions and unknowable outcomes. This status shift of the world we negotiate is destabilising,
……like standing on ground that wobbles.
At the same time, many are submerged in personal grief by the death of a loved one. Whether from the virus or other causes, the force of this compound anguish can’t be underestimated. A lonely death and an unattended funeral can conspire to build a burden of near intolerable pain.
How to process the legacy of this heartbreak healthily?
Grief is non-uniform and non-linear. It’s felt differently, at different times, for a different time period, by each individual. This is reflective of personality, circumstance and relationship to what or whom has been lost.
Suffering, however, is a commonality. And if there’s something we can all agree on, it’s that we don’t like it. Although the focus of life as meaning or happiness is much debated, both pre-suppose a level of well-being: unhappiness is uncomfortable.
Humans have a natural response to try to minimise pain.
When, in fact, the more we can allow it, the better.
Minimising has several characteristics. Here are 3 big ones:
I need to be strong.
The belief that sadness is weak. That we’re letting ourselves and others down by relenting to it and will be in danger of completely falling apart.
Sadness may need to be invited in, but it won’t leave even if it isn’t; it will wait, or find a window you didn’t realise was open. If you trust it has a reason to be and listen to it, it will allow other emotions to join sooner.
This can’t be normal.
Grief is not usual. But not only is it normal, it’s necessary. It bypasses your desire to function as you’re used to. It’s creative and bespoke in the ways it causes you to react. Unless your thoughts turn suicidal, in which case you must seek help, all responses are OK.
Our rational mind attempts to contextualise our discomfort, concluding our overwhelmed response to be wrong.
I can fix this.
By self-medicating, compartmentalising, drinking alcohol or taking recreational drugs, we try to escape or control the pain. We hope to isolate or contain it.
But grief can’t be so easily commandeered or deferred, and it touches every aspect of experience. At its centre is a crisis that attacks your sense of being in the world. Around this, your body, your emotions, your day-to-day functioning, your relationships– everything is impacted. There are no short-cuts or handy hacks, just a path through to healing and hope over time.
The only work of grief is to be authentic;
to believe in its reason for being;
to acknowledge its reach and complexity.
Our task is to access our strength when we can and to allow our pain when it floods in.
In challenging times especially, there’s comfort in knowing we’re not judged by how we cope with loss; we’re elevated by the ways we make space for love.
Thank you for your valuable insight Sophie. Caroline x
Sophie is writing a book called The Grief Matrix. The book’s inspiration came from her own experience of loss. It is a practical, supportive guide on what to expect in the early days after a loved one dies. It recognises that the very personal and chaotic process of grieving affects every aspect of life and offers a framework that puts each into perspective.