Good Grief

It’s been just over a year since one of my oldest and dearest friends passed away. A facebook memory popped up and it broke me into pieces. She died 391 days ago, in the UK, just as Covid moved from a vague Chinese flu to a worldwide pandemic. By the time the coroner’s report was done, the borders were closing in, the opportunity to travel to London was taken from us and the Australian funeral was cancelled. The online funeral experience was horrifying. It left me cold. I felt adrift, unable to seek closure or grieve with friends and loved ones due to limitations on travel, government rule changes and lockdowns. We tried several times to schedule a memorial and each time another lockdown came in place. The 5km radius hit me the hardest, as a single woman, many of my friends lived outside the radius and social catch ups on Zoom are really just you and a bottle of wine day drinking.

Since the pandemic began, my mind has been in free-fall. For me, 2020 is best described as a kaleidescope of misplaced emotions, on a spectrum of extreme gratitude to the darkest of despair. In short, a total epic shit show. Without the ability to travel overseas and viewing a funeral via Zoom, I was at a loss as to how I would ever process the gamut of emotions that I’ve been experiencing.

Lockdown gave me plenty of time to consider what I feel, what I felt, how I feel now and especially: what I want my life to look like. Taking stock. Reassessing everything. The shadow of grief still chases me and everyday I wait for my friend to call, or a postcard to arrive. But there is only radio silence. Where is she now? Is she okay? I want to scream at her for not being here during Covid. But secretly knowing that travel restrictions would have been the death of her anyway.

My experience with grief is not a unique one. 2020 was a year of grieving. But for those who lost a family member or friend, the grief was both incidental and monumental. Incidental because as a Victorian, we shrugged and got on with our lives. Whilst secretly internalising and repressing the pain, increasing in size but refusing to feel anything.

Overall, I was angsty and frustrated; with no memorial or place to lay my grief down, I did what I always do in an emotional crisis. I threw myself in to research- as if educating myself on the concept of grieving could somehow alleviate my pain. There is such a wealth of knowledge out there and I absorbed much research and data out there about grief and loss. It’s a well known fact that death of a loved one is the number one stressor event that will impact every part of our lives- our relationships, our jobs, our emotions and it will trigger depression and anxiety across all walks of life in a myriad of different ways. Grief and loss may appear to be a solely emotional reaction but there is no doubt that unchecked and unprocessed, our emotional stressors manifest in physical illness and disease.

So, not only is there emotional pain and mental anguish to contend with, it comes with the daily torture of grief and loss of feeling lost and hopelessness. Never mind that on any given day, we are bombarded by mini-threats and routine changes that trigger emotional stress (Did I lock the door, Why am I texting and driving, how do I feel today? Did I drink too much last night? Is my job safe? How will I pay the mortgage if I lose my job? What if I can’t hold it together today?); but the fact is, because we don’t fight or run, we stay both passive, yet statically reactive; our cortisol and adrenaline in over-drive, we are flooded in stress hormones and often we have limited skills to absorb, process, manage and regulate our daily emotions. And on top of that, we have had a global pandemic to contend with. If you can somehow make it through the day in an uncertain world living through an ‘unprecedented pandemic’, without the shadow of death or grief foreshadowing you, then consider yourself lucky.

Knowing my own struggles, I can only imagine how others are doing, the Covid-19 sufferers and their families, never mind the elderly, disabled, mental health challenged, parents, singles, disadvantaged and those grieving time and distance and the death of loved ones. It’s been a hell of a year.

Whether you know of anyone struck down by Covid-19 or not, it’s safe to say that it has changed our lives forever. From mask wearing to lockdowns to the end of international and interstate travel, to global economies and across all business models; the impact of Covid-19 means that change is happening, whether we like it or not. There is no going back. There is no take-backsies, no snapback, bounce-back or comeback to pre-Corona world. There is only going forward. For some, going forward means going in to the unknown. The unknown of family safety, employment, mortgage and bill payments, health and food payments, on top of the uncertainty of health and travel. Life as we knew it will become a whole new world.

I know that my 2020 story is not unique. For every person who has passed away, or had a loved one who passed in the last twelve months, there have been significant changes as to how we live our life. Whilst huge sweeping changes generate this uncertainty and anxiety that infiltrates our lives in ways we cannot even anticipate and we turn on the news to visit the chaos of a dystopian-post-Trump-American-nightmare and a daily global death count, it takes all my inner strength to remind myself to breathe and accept that the sun will still rise tomorrow.

When I consider my pendulum of 2020 emotions and you take that and multiply by every single Australian during a global pandemic; it makes you wonder how will we move past our collective grief and what impact will it have on the collective consciousness?

And as we individually and collectively process our experiences throughout 2020, it comes at a time when we would normally be in the passionate throws of that monthly-long-glow of New Years Resolutions. Where hope and optimism grow. Where we think of weight loss and long-term projects, career goals and future fairytales, love stories and fantasies. 

And what is the new year glow, without the classic reflection and inward introspection? I think back to New Years Eve 2019, last summer, where half of the eastern coast of Australia was on fire. People were afraid. A friend of mine lost her house in the Mallacoota fires. Other friends complained about their summer holidays being put on hold and camping and boating adventures being waylaid. Road closures and regional interruptions meant plans had to change. We were basking in the glow of that early 2020 ‘first-world-white people’ problems.

‘Oh well’, my friend said, ‘Lakes Entrance is off, but Danny wants to go visit his sister in Queensland.’ And off they went. The casual travel plans of January 2020 seems like a lifetime ago. Normal life and how we navigate our daily routines have been turned on its head.

But there is an opportunity for hope. If we allowed ourselves to think differently, the pandemic presents an opportunity for diversification and a huge global re-set. It has the possibility to change and transform every country and every economy. It challenges us to reimagine capitalism and for big business to reimagine a better world, to recalibrate industry and to reassess the legacies that they want to leave behind. 2020 asked us to be brave enough to review our predispositions and assumptions around equality and equity for a variety of socio-economic groups, for women, minorities and LGBTQI people. To reassess and change the world. The opportunities for society to create a brave new world are endless.

IF we are brave.

And how do we do that? How can we be brave in a world fuelled by fear and narcissism. For me, the number one technique that has helped me is to take very clear moments to acknowledge truth and kindness, to remember to pat myself on the back and remind myself that 2020 has been a complex moment in our lives. So often we are focussed on the next thing, the next goal, the next achievement, that we don’t take the time to reflect on what’s happening in the moment. To appreciate our momentary successes and small wins.

On an individual level, the challenge that I offer both myself and others, is to give yourself permission to pause, reflect and then decide to act (or not), on any shade or colour on the spectrum of emotion. You are not lazy, wrong, weird, lost or selfish. You are simply having a human experience. I challenge you to recognise that it is important to take time in processing all that you have experienced. Because when you are authentic and connected with yourself and not on auto pilot, you may find that you want to do small things for yourself, for your home and for others. Light a candle and weep for those who are gone. Turn the music up loud and dance and sing like a joyful child. Take a long hot bath and turn the music down low and soothe your soul. Go out on a crisp morning and breathe in deeply and remind yourself of all the things you do have and the things in your that that your are grateful for.

Simplify your thoughts. Give yourself the gift of truth this year. Your own truth. And see how brightly your own inner light can shine. When you view your life through a spectrum of hope and success, you will see your mind opens up to the possibilities. Ask yourself: what do you want? What do you need to reimagine your daily life? How can you live more authentically?

It happened to me. The answers I sought came to me in the silence of lockdown, when the mind was quiet and I stopped to listen. I choose to believe that this way of thinking makes us stronger. Listening makes us stronger. Imagine the possibilities if we all stopped for a moment, talked about how we were feeling and chose to help one another by listening. The world is noisy. But if we choose to stop and listen to each other, it makes us strong and after all, we are stronger together.

Who’s with me?

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