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Loss is different in a time of the pandemic, but it is still a loss
My Grandfather was 102 years old. He was born in the year the first world war ended. He lived through the second war, had sons who fought in that war, stopped working when he was in his sixties, and spent 30 years cycling, rambling and travelling before advanced dementia caught up with him in his final decade.
My Grandfather didn’t die of COVID-19 (though he was not tested), but he did die on Thursday morning in a time of a global pandemic and that is hard. I want to share some thoughts about how to cope with this new, strange difficulty of a personal death in a time when death has become the national normality.
How you can cope
Don’t be afraid to express your loss
In the last week, I have gone through several emotions about my Grandfather’s passing.
One of them has been hesitant to speak about his death because it seems somehow indecent. So many people are dying around the world, being ripped from their families in an untimely manner. My Grandfather’s death cannot be called unexpected, he was 102, but it is still untimely. It is still a shock. It is still painful, and it has taken me a few days to realise that just because other families are hurting doesn’t mean my family’s hurt is somehow less important.
This is a feeling that many of us might be experiencing who lose people at these times.
When the news is filled with stories of death, we somehow believe that there is someone out there whose pain is somehow more valid than our own. It’s not true. Our families’ pains are just as valid as any others and we should feel free to express that loss.
Try to be patient with the circumstances
The circumstances of grieving in a pandemic mean that our patience for the logistics of death may be tested. All I want to do is see my family and come together to recognise my Grandfather and his impact and I am impatient for that time, but I am forced to be patient.
My Grandfather passed without a family member by his side, and only his sons were able to see him in his last days, one at a time. I was not able to say goodbye properly and I am impatient for a proper goodbye. I will not be able to attend my Grandfather’s funeral, hardly any of us will be able to, and I am impatient for a time when we can all gather and remember his life.
I am forced to be patient with the circumstances of losing someone in a pandemic, reminding myself that these restrictions that feel, at the moment very inhumane, are designed to protect the people I love that are still with me. There will be a time to formally celebrate and mourn and remember my Grandfather and the century he lived, but I must try to be patient for it.
Manage your expectations of grieving
For me, the hardest thing about losing someone at this time is that the regulations in place to protect us all go against my every human instinct about how to manage grief.
This is how I would usually grieve – I would be close to my immediate family, probably going with my husband to stay at my parents’ house. I can’t do that right now. My parents live five hours away from us, I can’t even go and stand at the end of their driveway just to be in their presence.
So I need to manage my expectations of what grieving looks like.
My family and I are staying in nearly constant contact, and we are supporting each other in the best ways we can, virtually and over the phone, but I am also adjusting the circle of people I might usually grieve with. My close friends that live nearby are now more privy to my grief because I need them to be. Grieving for my Grandad is different than I thought it would be, but just because it’s different doesn’t mean it’s less respectful to him or less meaningful.
Don’t underestimate how much grief takes out of you
I was expecting to feel sadness and anger and depression, but I’ve been surprised at how exhausted I have been feeling in this grieving process.
I think in ordinary time, I would perhaps be less physically exhausted, but there is something about having to manage an extra feeling of change and loss in a time that is already incredibly turbulent that makes me feel as if I just can’t get enough sleep.
It seems to me that in almost every situation at the moment, we are all already carrying a heavy burden of coping with life inside these new restrictions and the weight of worrying over others. When new grief comes it feels exceptionally heavy, and we need to adjust our expectations of how to bear it.
Grief takes so much energy in the best of circumstances, and in these circumstances it can feel enormous. It’s okay to need to sleep more, it’s okay to need to take time out of your everyday life to sit with your loss, it’s okay that it feels overwhelming. Take your time. Give yourself space.
Remember how someone lived, not how they died
When I think about my Grandfather’s death in a time of COVID-19, I am saddened.
I am saddened that we weren’t allowed into his care home to say goodbye. I am saddened that he was unable to have premium medical care in his last days because medical professionals had been diverted to the COVID relief effort. I am saddened that we won’t be able to celebrate him as we wish to with a proper funeral and wake. I regret that he died without family members around him, I feel regret and mourn for all those who will pass without a loved one to hold their hands.
It is distressing.
In order to manage these feelings of distress, I am focusing on how my Grandfather lived, not how he died. I cannot change the facts of his death any more than I can change the stars, but I can choose how to remember him.
For all of us at this time, it is incredibly important to remember the people behind the statistics. My Grandfather died in a time of COVID-19, and it is easy to only focus on the ways that his death was impacted and affected by the virus – but he was so much more than that.
I choose to remember differently. I am remembering postcards sent from the pyramids, and stories from my father’s childhood. I am remembering a life well-lived.
If you would further resources on coping with grief and loss, we welcome you to visit our dedicated page for grief on The Lily-Jo Project website here
On this page you can find videos, stories, and plenty of practical tips that you can integrate into your life today.
In addition to this page on our website, we also highly recommend the book ‘Good Grief’ by Ems Hancock. This book is all about Ems personal story of ‘living through loss’, and you can find it on Amazon Kindle here
About the Author: Emma Hinds
Emma is a writer living and working in Manchester. She is a mental health advocate and has been blogging about mental health for the last ten years. Emma has a history of eating disorders and is currently living with a diagnosis of OCD and chronic depression. She has been working specifically with young people struggling with their mental health for the last four years and is now supporting the Lily Jo Project’s On Track follow up schools programs. You can see Emma’s work and follow her mental health blog here You can also follow her on socials here:twitter@EmmaLouisePH and instagram@elphreads.