Post Covid-19, how do we digest the grief of a pandemic?

Written by, Kitty Ward.

We have been consistently told throughout the Coronavirus that we are living through unprecedented times and that returning to the status quo seems unlikely. This begs the question what will the new normal look like? And how will it be achieved? The first thing we need to do if we want return to some kind of normalcy is to deal and process with what we have lost while living in the time of Covid-19. Since late January the virus first made headlines we as a society have experienced feelings of grief that we have not been able to fully experience and come to terms with.

Charity Marie Curie has called for National Day to reflect, grieve and remember those who have died from the Coronavirus and other causes, the 23rd of March has been suggested as that is the date when the UK first went into lockdown. The charity estimated that 300,000 people may be grieving for loved ones who’ve died since the UK lockdown began. That’s 300,000 people who have been unable to properly digest and comes to terms with the grief that they fell for loved ones. Under lockdown, funerals are having to adhere to strict social distancing rules, as guidelines state that mourners must keep two metres apart and only members of the same household or close family should attend funerals. This means that friends, extended family, and immediate family who are high risk are unable to attend funerals.  When I spoke to the CEO of Marie Curie Matthew Reid, he said that funerals are important because not only do they provide dignity to the loved one that has passed, but they also act as the closing of a chapter for those who are left behind. Current social distancing guidelines makes this impossible for mourners who may not be able to be with their loved ones at the end of their life or attend their funerals.

Moreover, what does grieving in lockdown look like if the bereaved are not able to rely on their social networks to support them through the sorrow of death? The effects of not having access to the tools to deal with death are great, and the consequences are heavy. Grief can affect the individual both mentally and physically. Mentally the individual can become pre-occupied with thoughts, memories, and images of loved ones, making it hard to process the death of loved ones. The grief can take on physical qualities such as depression, trouble sleeping, loss of appetite, and feelings of anger when individuals feel chronic stress due to their grief. The pandemic has haltered the ability of individuals to deal with the mental and physical effects of grief and has left many grieving alone.

It is must be remembered that feelings of grief can be extended to grieving for the loss of life as we knew it before Covid-19. We have lost our everyday routines; the daily commute, meeting friends for coffee, or being able to hold and see loved ones. Everyone’s daily schedules are different and unique, but the monotony offered a reassuring structure to the individual living it.  There has also been the loss of the ability to attend events that celebrated milestones that centred us by acting as a finish line for goals that we were in the process of achieving that at times felt impossible. There has also been the loss of livelihoods, businesses, and promised job opportunities that as left many living in financial limbo and uncertainty. We must learn how to deal with the upset and financial consequences that come with the loss of life as we once knew it. While we hope for the end of this pandemic there is also an anxiety that comes with the many unknowns of what kind of life is waiting for us post the Coronavirus and will it ever be life as we knew it.

In years to come we must remember the complexities of the grief that we felt during the pandemic and acknowledge the feelings of grief that remains for the pandemic. It’s not just the people that we lost that we need to grieve for us to effectively grieve as a society, we need to also grieve the parts of our everyday lives that have been lost when we were coming out of this pandemic. For this to be possible the individual needs to be afforded the right to work through their distress and anguish at their own pace and however they want to. This is only possible if we as a society have the structures in place to support those grieving and re-think what support was being offered to the grieving pre Covid-19.



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