Let’s talk about loss…

I’m not sure about you, but part of me has welcomed this new world with its semi-loss of freedom. As someone who is always complaining she never has enough time and feels like stop the world, I want to get off! there are definitely some positives to be drawn from being forced into leading a more sedate way of life. Like having time to write a blog post for The Self(ish) Diaries, something I promised to devote more time to in 2020, but inevitably (due having 2 jobs, studying part-time and raising 3 children) has been woefully neglected. But for many, this time is unwelcome; it brings much uncertainty, which in turns brings anxieties and sadly, whether we want to acknowledge it or not, some form of loss.

I don’t deal well with loss. I thought it came from my nan dying suddenly when I was fifteen, without an opportunity for me to say goodbye, however, in my quest to become a qualified counsellor I now have regular therapy and it has become quite apparent that loss has been present for most of my life. With loss, comes endings; I expect we can all think of a moment towards the end of a film, where there’s recognition that things aren’t going to be the same again and we all shed a tear. Well, that’s it; that’s loss. The spread of Covid19 throughout the globe is bringing loss to all nations; many individuals losing their loved ones, and that is the overarching loss we are all seeing some of us go through, but underneath, we are all experiencing our own, personal losses.

As I type this, I should be sipping a cocktail, sprawled on a sun-lounger, finishing off the manuscript of my latest novel, in the hot, Mexican sun. Yes, it’s a first world problem and I am lucky to be safe at home with my husband and children, but to keep saying that would be to deny me my loss. And if I can’t accept my loss, I can’t move on (more on that below). I know my husband is suffering the same loss as he checks the temperature in Cancun for every day we should have been on holiday. My eldest son has just started a new relationship. I am so happy for him, but like in some perverse version of a Shakespearean tragedy, the pair of star-crossed lovers cannot see each other, let alone touch; a great loss at such a tender age. My youngest son who was so oh-be-joyful at the thought of not going to school for months on end has been quite unsettled in the past week and eventually asked at bedtime last night, ‘do you know when you think we’ll be allowed to go back to school yet?’. Because, he misses his friends; yet more loss. I am sure you will have your own; I hope, for you, it isn’t as painful as losing a loved one, but I am sure there are many out there worried about loss of financial income, loss of quality time with children (because they are a keyworker and have to work more than usual) or simply, for the elderly and vulnerable, loss of freedom as they’ve been asked to stay indoors for 12 weeks.

Your loss, however great or small, is real, it is valid; recognise it, feel it, and make sense of the effects it is having on you and, possibly, your loved ones.

I think it is easy for us to only consider grief in terms of bereavement; when we lose a loved one, we grieve. It’s a process; there is no fixed period of time, often the attachment to the person we’ve lost dictates how long we find ourselves grieving for. Bereavement is loss, perhaps the greatest loss of all, but still a loss. So, why wouldn’t we grieve the same loss when the attachment to the person, object or situation means something to us to? A relationship breakdown, losing your job, being furloughed and not being able to go to work, being an NHS worker having to work overtime and losing out on our free time, experiencing a miscarriage, not being able to take your GCSEs or A-Levels to prove your ability in  your exams; all forms of loss, all deserving of time to grieve and adapt to the changes that inevitably come following the loss.

As individuals, we are all unique and therefore our loss and our grief are exclusive to us to. There are various psychological models of grief but, generally, five stages are universally recognised. To give an example, I’ve used the Lockdown we are experiencing currently in the UK, being requested to stay indoors and only leave our homes for exercise or to buy essential groceries, thinking in terms of  loss of freedom.

Denial is a little like a basic instinct, which allows us to survive the loss. It is too much pain for us to take in so we go numb, into shock, and begin to cope with as much as we can handle. It’s the beginning of the healing process, even if we can’t compute fully, yet, what has happened. What do you mean I can’t go to work? They’re closing all the restaurants! But we’re meant to be going out with Dave and Julie for dinner next Saturday, surely, they won’t stop us going out? There must be a mistake, I’m sure this virus isn’t as serious as they’re making out, hundreds of people die from normal flu every winter anyway.

Anger is a significant part of coping with loss. It’s familiar to us, we all manage anger and frustration at some point, sometimes on a daily or weekly basis; it’s there to temporarily anchor our strength so that we can get through our loss by abstractly getting angry at something or everything in our lives. I cannot believe the Government are taking this action, it is utterly ridiculous! The supermarkets are all right; they’re thriving on this situation whilst the rest of the country goes to pot. There’ll be a recession and it will be this stupid country’s fault for not allowing people to work and making us all stay at home.

Bargaining is what happens when we still can’t accept the loss and we feel that maybe there’s a deal to be struck. Because we really want life to return to the way it was, before the loss occurred. I reckon there must be some way out of this lockdown. I mean, we’re still allowed to go to the supermarket. If we’re allowed to drive there, then why can’t we drive up to the beauty spot and take the dogs for a walk? So, we’re not allowed to the restaurants but we can still invite the family round for Sunday lunch, can’t we? As long as we maintain social distancing. Life would pretty much carry on as normal then, wouldn’t it?

Depression in grief is different to depression at other times, so it is important to remember that you aren’t necessarily mentally unwell. Once we stop being in denial, getting angry and bargaining for things to be the same, we begin to return to the present and the, well, depressing thought that things aren’t going to the same since we’ve suffered our loss. It is a normal response to our situation, a dawning of realisation to what has happened. I cannot believe this is happening. I’m stuck in, all day, every day with the exception of one piddling walk. My husband doesn’t understand; he thinks I should just snap out of it, but I miss meeting my friends for coffee, I miss going clothes shopping with my daughter on Saturdays, I miss just being able to hop in the car and drive to the seaside for the day. Even the weather is miserably glorious at the moment; we could easily take a day trip to a National Trust property and yet we’re just here again, like groundhog day, getting on top of each other and rowing about what we should eat for supper tonight. It is soooo depressing. 

Acceptance is about fully accepting our loss, so we are in a place where we feel able to move on in this brave new world which is, in some way, different from the environment we inhabited before. We may never really like this new reality, it may feel different for months or years to come, but we have accepted that life must be this way now. Over time, we begin to enjoy this new world, but we know it will never replace the loss we have for someone or something. Part of me still can’t believe all of this is happening; the death toll keeps rising day-by-day, it’s really serious. But I understand why we’re all expected to stay at home now; it makes sense. We’re safe at home. I’ve told my husband we need to make more of an effort to structure our day, to make it easier. I’ve started baking again, something I haven’t done for years and I actually find it enjoyable. Stopping work seemed like a huge void in my life, but now I’ve stopped having a lie-in for half the morning, I’m finding I’m sleeping better at night, not worrying as much, and actually finding positives about living in lockdown. I’m not sure life will ever go back to exactly how it was, I’m still worried that the economy will be ruined and we’ll all be paying higher taxes for years to come, but my husband and I are safe and healthy and we haven’t caught coronavirus; that’s all that really matters. 

For some, going through this process is more challenging than for others. I’m thinking about those who are still holding house parties at the weekends. Maybe they’re still in denial that this is really happening, or perhaps they’re bargaining, to try and bend the rules of social distancing. Whatever the reasons, it is important to remember that we are all suffering loss at the moment and, if we can accept that and be kinder to each other, perhaps we’ll all get through this together.

In the meantime, we can all focus on our own, recent losses. Are we accepting of them or are we getting angry and lashing out at those around us, because our loss is too hard to bear? It is understandable to be feeling emotional at the moment; Covid19 is affecting all of us, on some level. However small we feel it is, however, insignificant we feel it is to others, it is a loss to us, individually, uniquely. Ensuring we grieve it, ensuring we recognise how we’re feeling, is how we can help ourselves get through this. Because we’re all surviving this in some way in some form and it’s important we invest some time in self-care.*

If you are experiencing overwhelming feelings and feel you are not coping with how Covid19 has impacted you, the organisation I volunteer for, Shout, is here to listen to you (UK only, Crisis Textline in US). All you have to do is text SHOUT to 85258 and someone will be at the other end of the phone, to support you. If you are an NHS worker, you can text FRONTLINE to the same number to receive specific support for NHS staff.

Wishing you stay safe and well and if you aren’t, hoping you feel secure and well very soon.

Lx

*I am not a qualified counsellor/therapist. These are my thoughts on loss and my interpretation of grief in these current, challenging times. You can read more on the stages of grief here https://bit.ly/2UTODxk. If this blog has left you feeling like you need to talk to someone about how you are feeling, either follow my suggestion above and text Shout, or visit the Mind charity website for further information on how to access talking therapies https://bit.ly/2VekYhn.

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