Here in England, we are finally hoping for a tentative return to some sort of normality in our lives, as we recover from the impact of COVID-19.
Vaccination is well underway, schools have reopened, and we are looking forward to some services such as hairdressers opening their doors as early as next week.
When Covid hit and we were first told to stay at home last March, I often heard the word grief in relation to the pandemic.
In its most obvious manifestation, we grieved the people who died from Covid, but as our society ground to a halt, those who had social circles, trips away planned, and financial security suffered from their combined losses also. As businesses shut and we were unable to spend time with other people, we all lost daily life as we knew it, with no idea when normal would ever be seen again.
For some, this upheaval and grief was new, but some of us had been in the grief space for a while.
Here are three things I’d like you to know about grief:
1. Grief requires witnessing
If you have overheard anyone meeting up since we have been allowed to gather, you won’t just have heard polite chat about the weather, but about lived realities and raw emotions. Hardwired for connection as humans are, we need to tell each other what we’ve been through, even when something so universal as a pandemic means we have all been through similar experiences—perhaps especially for that reason.
The British stiff upper lip is taking time to crumble, but erode it must, and Covid is helping to wear it down. Talk it, write it, shout it to the wind if need be, but grief doesn’t shift if you don’t express it somehow.
2. Don’t make any sudden life changes
When in mourning for a person, we are sometimes told that it is unwise to make any big decisions for a whole year afterward in order to allow emotions to die down, and for the new reality to be seen plainly in the cold light of day.
Similarly, I have heard it said that the times in your life when you are stricken by grief are in fact the worst times to inherit, poorly placed as you are to make decisions about any inheritance. Grief fog is real.
Here in beautiful Cornwall, a popular holiday destination, the property market has gone into meltdown as people gazump each other for a limited supply of housing—often without even viewing properties—and existing residents are priced out. Similarly, locals desperate for somewhere to rent lose out to landlords who would rather cash in from the Airbnb trade. It is a contentious issue to say the least.
Now that we have seen how remote working can be done, it is understandable that more people seek a better quality of life away from large towns. Many of us have had time on our hands to consider what is really important to us. Having pretty much lost our liberty for so many months (the rights and wrongs of which I am not here to debate), escaping to the country—or even to a different country altogether—could feel like demob-happy, nose-thumbing, school’s-out rebellion.
But, is it wise to up sticks altogether and sever ties with our pre-Covid life? Are we so quick to forget what grieved us in the first place when the pandemic hit?
Leaving the support network of friends and family is a huge decision. Moving to your much-loved holiday destination means that you no longer have it as a holiday destination, and the reality is that living there is probably not how you imagined it.
Leaving the Cornwall-specifics aside, though, the wider question is whether 13 months of pandemic living have left us well placed to make such huge, life-changing decisions. And through my experience of grief, I would urge caution.
3. Grief doesn’t just end
It takes time to percolate through. For every voice proclaiming their excitement and impatience to get back to normality, I hear at least one other who is reticent, anxious, and definitely in no hurry to reemerge.
As someone who is grieving a loved one and the life I had with them, I am here to say this: grief is your process. Just as when you are pregnant you are told that every birth is different, I have come to see that every grief is also unique. There is no right way to heal; there is only the way that serves you. There are also not five stages, and the assertion that there always are makes me think of The Scarlet Pimpernel death in the TV series “Blackadder”: laughable, but ultimately bonkers.
So if you want to get into a corner and hide there until your grieving process is done, I vote that you do it. I am not hearing so many mentions of grief now, but it stands to reason that we are still feeling it. If you have lost a person or anything you hold dear, you will know that grief lingers.
Grief requires that we get friendly with it, that we name it, that we learn its contours and shady spots.
If this pandemic has grieved you and you want to creep out slowly rather than in a riot of colour and celebration, I see you, and I understand.
You are not alone.