Grieving Is Hard.

Grieving During A Pandemic Is Even Harder.

Without rituals, or a communal gathering, the the loss of a loved one can be felt even more keenly

by Julia Paskin

I recently lost someone who, in a lot of ways, was like a second mother. She didn’t die from COVID-19 but pandemic regulations still stand. It’s not safe to have a memorial for her.

Grief is never easy. I’m having trouble processing her loss for a few reasons but a big one is that Mama Sue was a mother to a whole lot of people, and being unable to gather with all of them in her honor has me feeling kind of stuck in my grief.

Dr. Katherine Shear says rituals surrounding death are an important part of the health process. “Without those rituals we struggle a lot more with coming to terms with the loss, which is of course what we have to do,” said Shear. Ultimately healing requires us to “regroup and find our way forward.”

PROLONGED GRIEF

Shear teaches psychiatry at Columbia University and specializes in prolonged grief, something she’s seeing a lot more of these days. Grief is considered prolonged when the feelings disrupt everyday life beyond what’s considered a healthy degree and amount of time. Symptoms of prolonged grief, also known as complicated grief can include extreme sorrow, isolation, and an inability to feel joy long after suffering a loss.

For many, it’s not only about missing out on the ritual and sense of community. It’s also about not being with someone when they die. Shear says separation from loved ones during the dying process can also make healing more difficult.

“Those things contribute to the processing of the reality of the death,” said Shear. “That’s a part of what we have to do – accept the reality. And then we have to find a way to restore our capacity to feel well-being.”

ENORMOUS NUMBERS

Demographer Emily Smith-Greenaway teaches sociology and spatial sciences at USC and has quantified the impact of COVID-19 fatalities on its survivors. She says “each death results in about nine Americans grieving the death of a close relative.”

Based on that projection, 225,000 people in California were personally affected by the death of someone from COVID-19 in 2020 alone. “The size of the population grieving, and grieving very intimate losses, is just enormous,” said Smith-Greenaway.

Fellow USC professor Diane Blaine specializes in thanatology which is the study of death and its impact. She says there are ways to find solace in creating our own rituals to help the healing process…

“Write a letter, light a candle too, you know, I have a little altar, and to just sit and weep,” said Blaine. “We can still do those things.”

FUTURE GATHERINGS

Many are finding ways to connect with other mourners. Zoom memorial services and online religious ceremonies are being frequently held. If you’re still struggling though, Blaine recommends talking to a grief counselor or support group.

The challenge is that there are a lot of communities where mental health services are hard to access and they’re often the same communities with high COVID-19 mortality rates. An emerging idea is to train people already trusted in the community like barbers and church members to give support.

Most importantly, Blaine says to remember that grief doesn’t have a timeline.

“Even though right now there might have to be a forestalling of whatever form of grief process, it can continue and it can continue on even for years.”

Blaine says we will be able to gather in the memory of those we’ve lost again at some point. And that can be healing whenever it happens.

For what it’s worth, I think I’ll light another candle for Mama Sue tonight.

Complete Article HERE!

There Is No Vaccine for Grief

But there are ways to prepare to face it.

By A.C. Shilton

For months, I’ve felt like the emotional equivalent of a car with a cracked windshield. I’m still rolling through daily life, but one good knock is bound to shatter me. Although the number of coronavirus cases has been declining, the number of deaths has soared well above 500,000, and now we have the new variants to worry about. I know that if I have not yet lost a loved one, I’m one of the lucky ones — and no one’s luck lasts forever.

I love being proactive — I’m all about having a go bag with extra batteries, duct tape and granola bars ready for any emergency. But what, if anything, could I do to prepare myself for grief?

Anticipatory grief is a well-documented phenomenon in grief counseling, said Dr. Katherine Shear, the founder and director for the Center for Complicated Grief at Columbia University. But usually researchers study anticipatory grief in environments like hospices, where loss is imminent. What many of us are experiencing right now is more nebulous. Dr. Shear cautioned that spiraling into anticipatory grief for a loss that may not even happen is likely to be unhelpful.

Of course, even if you do not lose a family member or friend in the pandemic, that does not mean you will not experience grief. At its core, grief is a reaction to a change that you didn’t want or ask for, said David Kessler, a grief expert and author of many books on the subject, including his most recent, “Finding Meaning: The Sixth Stage of Grief.”

Even those who have not lost family members are experiencing some level of loss in the pandemic, he said, from the disappointment of missing in-person experiences and holiday celebrations to the losses of our jobs and even our homes.

“The problem with comparisons in grief is if you win, you lose,” Mr. Kessler said, adding, “and the world is big enough for all our griefs.”

Inoculating yourself against feelings of loss may prove harder than getting a routine vaccine. “Grief is as unique as a thumbprint. What works for one person may not work for another,” said Deanna Upchurch, the director of clinical outreach services at the Providence-based hospice HopeHealth. Still, should the worst happen, knowing what tends to help others could help you gird yourself — even just a little bit. If doing something feels better to you than doing nothing, consider this your packing list for a grief go bag.

Practice Experiencing Your Emotions.

“In our culture, we tend to think painful emotions are bad,” Dr. Shear said. “But that’s really not true. It’s true that they’re painful, but we can learn from them,” she said. Next time you feel something unpleasant, take a moment to sit with it and think about why you’re feeling the way you’re feeling.

Mr. Kessler suggests looking to the animal kingdom for inspiration on learning to live with uncomfortable emotions. After his 21-year-old son died suddenly in 2016, Mr. Kessler was watching a documentary on buffalos. The documentary noted that buffalos run straight into oncoming storms.

“Because they run into the storm, they minimize the time they are in the discomfort. We live in a society that minimizes grief. Unlike the buffalo, we try to stay a mile ahead of it, but it’s just always there, chasing behind us,” he said. Consider, instead, being willing to run into the rain.

Shower the People You Love With Love.

Maureen Keeley, a professor of interpersonal communication at Texas State University, has been studying the final conversations between family members for nearly 20 years. In that time, one theme has emerged over and over again: “We need to tell those we love that we love them,” she said.

This advice sounds so simple. And yet, when I tested it out by calling my best college friend to tell her how grateful I was for her friendship, the gears gummed up. (Instead, I asked about her new cat.) To which, Dr. Keeley gave me this advice: “Grow up.” Telling someone how much they mean to you may feel a bit awkward. Go on and reveal the mushy bits of your soul. Most people enjoy hearing how much they matter, and saying it now saves you from having regrets later.

Nurture Your Network.

“We are not meant to be islands of grief,” Mr. Kessler said. Everyone grieves differently, and even within your grief there may be periods when you wish to be alone and periods when you really need a friend. When the latter happens, having a sturdy network to lean on is so important. “We need to know our loved one’s life mattered, our loved one’s death mattered. It brings us meaning to see our pain witnessed in someone else’s eyes,” he said. Now is the time to make time for friends.

Some people need something to look forward to. Others find thinking about the future overwhelming, said Ms. Upchurch. If you’re currently planning what to serve at your post-vaccine dinner party, you’re likely in the first group. Knowing that can help you put things on your schedule that will bring you joy in a dark time. If, however, you’ve been getting through the past year of social distancing by not thinking too far into the future, you may be better served by just allowing yourself to stay in the moment, taking each day as it comes.

Find a Natural Space.

Even if you’re generally not the outdoorsy type, a tiny slice of nature can be helpful in navigating grief, said Sonya Jakubec, a professor in the school of nursing and midwifery at Mount Royal University in Calgary, Canada. Dr. Jakubec studies the impact of natural spaces and parks on patients and caregivers. As she reported in a chapter she wrote on grieving in nature for the book “Health in the Anthropocene: Living Well on a Finite Planet,” she took palliative care patients and caregivers out for a walk near where they worked.

“Many of them had never considered the idea of going for a 20-minute walk break,” she said. After the field trips outdoors, 93 percent said they agreed or strongly agreed that natural spaces provide emotional comfort. Dr. Jakubec has seen similar results with grief groups that meet outside. “Parks and nature feel like a container that is large enough to hold our grief,” she said.

Thanks to vaccines and hospitals having more tools to treat critical patients, it’s possible that the bump we’re all bracing for will never arrive.

Still, it’s worth fortifying yourself now, because grief is an innate part of what it means to live a full and rich life as a human.

“Generally, grief is a lifelong experience that changes over time,” said Ms. Upchurch. Still, humans can be surprisingly resilient. That resilience will help you weather whatever else the pandemic has in store — cracks and all.

Complete Article HERE!

Pandemic grief could become its own health crisis

By Hope Edelman

As the nation mourns more than 500,000 lives lost a year into the coronavirus pandemic, another pandemic wave is building — of grief. It poses a potential public health crisis of its own.

For the past century, Americans’ response to grief has been to minimize its impact and suppress the emotional pain. We treat grieving as an individual affair, with mourners responsible for “getting over” their losses, mostly in private. Social isolation during the pandemic has made grieving even more solitary.

But grief wasn’t always treated this way. For centuries, communities came together to mourn the passing of an individual as a loss to the polity. Victorian mourning practices were extravagant social affairs involving rituals that the bereaved and fellow citizens followed for months, sometimes years, after a death.

Then came the one-two punch of World War I and the 1918 influenza pandemic. With so many deaths occurring so fast, mourning rituals became prohibitively expensive and social mourning was effectively impossible to maintain. Like today, large public gatherings were prohibited and quarantines enforced. Funerals shrank in size, mourning periods contracted and families were left to grieve in isolation. By the 1920s, grief in America had largely gone underground.

A century later, grief is again a widespread issue. With each covid-19 death affecting an estimated nine survivors, more than 4.5 million Americans are grieving loved ones lost to the virus. Beyond deaths to other causes, there were additional U.S. fatalities last year: gatherings with family and friends, classroom learning, millions of jobs that won’t return. Collectively, we lost a way of life in 2020.

Yet there has been no sustained outpouring of public support for mourners, as happened after the devastation of 9/11. Instead of a broad acknowledgment of mass distress, our nation has been mute with grief. Pandemic skepticism has also disparaged the losses some have experienced.

This is a precarious state for a nation. Grief is cyclical, especially around anniversary dates. Even under optimal conditions, many mourners experience a dip in functioning at the one-year mark. We should expect this to happen, starting this month, with the one-year anniversaries of the first wave of pandemic deaths and lockdowns. One year isn’t far on the long arc of adjustment, but it’s well beyond the point that most people expect visible evidence of mourning to last. Collectively failing to grant each other permission to express distress beyond the first weeks after a loss can have profound health consequences.

In children and teens, unaddressed grief can manifest as trouble sleeping, depression, anxiety, behavior issues and lower self-esteem, a 2015 study found. Research from 2018 found it leads to aggression and academic or work struggles. In adults, unaddressed grief can manifest as depression, anger, anxiety, and substance use and abuse. Medical research has linked unaddressed and suppressed emotions to a host of physical ailments later in life, including hypertension and autoimmune disorders.

President Biden’s remarks on Monday, acknowledging not just the lives lost but also the loved ones mourning, are a good start. In addition to promoting professional help, there are steps that we citizens can take to address this siloed bereavement and help head off a looming public health crisis.

We can start by viewing grief support as part of our essential social contract. Those who are grieving need acknowledgment and understanding from family and friends. This starts with taking their losses seriously and accepting their reactions. Listening to their stories of a loved one’s life and death with compassion, instead of judgment, is key; so is confirming the coronavirus’s threat to human health if their loved one died of covid.

As in 1918, public health restrictions have affected the rituals people typically rely on for comfort and support. Funerals have again become stripped-down facsimiles, with some long-standing ethnic and religious traditions abbreviated or abandoned. Some families have postponed memorial services — and their own expressions of grief — in favor of planning to hold shows of respect when groups can again gather safely.

Today’s mourners should be helped to hold on to whatever rituals remain, even if that means attending a memorial service two years after a death. Rituals allow people to draw on the comforts of the past while projecting a loved one’s influence forward.

New rituals can be developed, too. Even repetitive, everyday acts such as drinking morning coffee from a mother’s favorite mug or touching a loved one’s framed photo when passing by can bring comfort if performed with intention. Folding the memory or values of a lost loved one into new traditions is a way to continue honoring the lives they lived.

Finally, participating in public acknowledgements of those who have died provides a larger meaning and context for the half-million deaths that otherwise risk being minimized or, worse, forgotten.

Everyone eventually loses someone dear, some of us sooner rather than later. Mourners’ unexpressed distress can manifest in them physically and in their interactions with others — in how they work, raise children and create policy. Validating and supporting the bereaved at the time of loss is not just the compassionate thing to do — it’s a necessary investment in the collective good.

Complete Article HERE!

She Lost Her Mom to COVID-19, Then Her Dad. Here’s How She’s Coping

Tracey Carlos is one of many people who has lost both parents (pictured above) to COVID-19 and is working to cope with overwhelming grief during the pandemic.

by Cathy Cassata

  • COVID-19 has taken the lives of multiple loved ones from some families.
  • Dealing with the death of more than one family member at a time is a concurrent crisis.
  • There are ways to deal with such grief.

Bob and Bano Carlos were married 53 years when they both died from COVID-19.

According to their daughter, Tracey Carlos, they were inseparable.

“As important as my brother and I were to them, they were everything to each other,” she told Healthline.

During a phone call on March 14, 2020, Carlos learned that her mom had a fever and that her father wasn’t feeling well.

“They lived in a retirement community in Florida and assumed COVID was in the West Coast and hadn’t reached the East Coast yet. Florida was downplaying it at the time, and so they continued to live their life,” Carlos said.

Both of Carlos’ parents tested positive for COVID-19, and both were intubated in the intensive care unit (ICU) on March 20.

Because her mother lived with myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS), Carlos knew the chances of her surviving COVID-19 were unlikely.

She died on March 25 at 73 years old.

Carlos lives in Olympia, Washington, and wasn’t able to travel to Florida to be near her mother before she passed. However, Carlos did get there in time for her father’s last days.

“Dad lasted 30 days in the ICU, and we fully expected him to recover. He had COPD, but he practically forgot he had it because it [was managed] and wasn’t a major part of his life,” Carlos said.

Bob died on April 24 at 75 years old.

“It’s so hard to lose them both, but [the only] relief — and that’s hard to say — is that we didn’t have to tell Dad that Mom passed away,” Carlos said.

Losing more than one family member in a short time frame is considered a concurrent crisis, said Therese A. Rando, PhD, psychologist and owner of the Institute for the Study and Treatment of Loss.

“When the second person dies, the individual is still dealing with the loss of the first person,” Rando told Healthline.

This type of loss can lead to grief overload, or cumulative grief.

“We know this happens with both subsequential and nonsubsequential loss. Say two people die in an accident or fire. Your grief and mourning for Person A is complicated by the fact that you also have the burden of the grief and mourning for Person B, and that stresses you, adds to the traumatization, and reduces your support system,” Rando said.

Reviewing your relationship with the deceased is part of healthy mourning, she added.

“We go over it and think about the good, bad, happy, and sad times. Doing this is more challenging when you are reviewing Person A and that inherently means dealing with the loss of Person B, because they are also involved in that story you are reviewing,” she said.

Grief overload is a high risk factor for having complications with mourning.

While people who lose multiple loved ones will still experience the stages of grief — denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance — Dr. Leela Magavi, psychiatrist and regional medical director for Community Psychiatry, said the severity of the pain may be amplified.

“When individuals are overwhelmed with multiple losses, they are more likely to remain in the stage of denial for longer periods of time,” she told Healthline.

Magavi said they may engage in avoidant behavior by consuming alcohol or using substances to numb their pain.

“I have evaluated many children and adults who begin to stress and binge eat to alleviate their emotional pain,” she said.

The pressure to grieve both losses at once or equally can also add to the complexity of the situation.

“Each loss warrants time, reflection, and healing. If the individual had a complicated relationship with someone who passed, they may feel more guilty about this loss than the other due to their conflicting feelings,” Magavi said.

Conversely, she said they may feel shame and guilt if they don’t feel as saddened by one loss compared to the other.

“I remind individuals that there is no correct way to grieve,” Magavi said.

For Carlos, grief sometimes means mourning both of her parents together as well as separately.

“I used to talk to my mom every Saturday and I’ll find myself thinking, ‘Oh, I can’t wait to tell her this’ and then I realize I can’t tell her. And my dad had a job that involved him being a pirate at Disney World, so anything to do with pirates makes me stop and think of him,” she said.

Despite the notion that losing both parents is the natural order of life, Rando said research shows there are fundamental shifts that people make in the aftermath of losing their parents.

“When it’s a parent and you have a good relationship with them, you are incredibly impacted. Your parents know you from day one and you share such an incredible history. Losing them is a devastation of parts of the original family unit,” she said.

While the loss of both parents is complex, there are ways to cope. Below are some to consider.

Death during the pandemic, whether related to COVID-19 or not, can take more time to grieve due to shock, said Rando.

“I’ve done a lot of work on COVID death, and we see what we consider to be delayed grief for people. They haven’t had time to grieve because they have to focus energy on home-schooling kids, finding a job, keeping a business running, etc.,” she said.

Traumatization can cause post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and anxiety.

“Try healthy anxiety management strategies like breathing, building things in life to offset distress, and self-care,” Rando said.

Magavi advises her clients to name their feelings out loud by describing what they’re feeling emotionally and throughout their body.

“They can make a log of their emotions and identify any triggering factors, which exacerbated their condition, as well as alleviating factors, which helped them feel better. This activity helps us learn more about what we feel, why we feel, and what we can do to combat helplessness and take control during this time of uncertainty,” she said.

For Carlos, anger and self-blame are her biggest emotions to work through.

“I’m angry at leadership for not informing the public about the seriousness of COVID, and at my parents because after their deaths I became aware that they were getting together with friends in their retirement community,” Carlos said.

She’s learned to let go of some of the anger.

“This is bigger than any of us. I get angry when I see people without masks and not social distancing, but we are all human and we all mess up,” she said.

Complete Article HERE!

Pandemic reminds us of the joy of living and the inevitability of death

A candle stands among 1,000 crosses at Norwich Cathedral as symbols for the people of Norfolk, England, who have died due to COVID-19. Whether you have a faith or not, the pandemic reminds us of the inevitability of death and what really matters in life, writes columnist Catherine Ford.

By Catherine Ford

There are serious political issues that need addressing, but today nothing is as important as loss.

The turmoil in the United States, the bumbling of the Alberta government, even the seemingly appalling lack of organization and vaccine supply issues facing the Canadian government will have to wait. Reality is more pressing.

Within the past year, two of my oldest friends, women I lived with while at the University of Alberta, have been widowed after marriages that lasted more than 50 years. Such reality smacks me in the face; makes one realize how close and how real death becomes as we grow older. Both Mike Hancock and Ernie Walter were too young to die. And if you are older than 60, you know 80 is too young.

Both men were professionals, both were fathers and grandfathers. But before Ernie became a lawyer and eventually retired as the chief judge of the Alberta provincial court; before Mike earned a PhD and moved back to his home in England, they were young men in their prime, falling in love and marrying young women from southern Alberta. That’s how I choose to remember both of them.

Death has a way of reminding you what really matters. It was 26 years ago — trust me, that’s like yesterday — that we three couples were together in the same place. It was a trip to Italy that is still fresh in my mind, two weeks in a Tuscan farmhouse, two weeks of old friendship, sun and glorious Italian food and wines that never seem to be exported.

Nobody actually wants to think about death. We have a tendency to soft-pedal reality. We talk about “losing” someone, as if he or she was a set of car keys. We talk about someone “passing” as if we were all pedestrians on the same sidewalk. Such talk does no one any favours. We all die. It is inevitable. No bunches of flowers or plush toys left on sidewalks or lawns ease the grief for those left behind.

Sandra Martin argues in her excellent 2017 book, A Good Death, that dying is the final human right, and all of us should have the choice, if possible, to plan our final scene.

But planning takes more than a personal directive; it takes time. Very few of the older generation (that would be me) bother to talk to children about death, with the possible exception of the “nursery” bedtime prayer that starts out positively, “Now I lay me down to sleep,” and ends with the prophetic, “If I should die before I wake/ I pray the Lord my soul to take.” That should be enough to scare even the most optimistic child. I imagine that scores of children have been scared in the past year as deaths from COVID-19 have dominated the news.

Instead, we are lulled into believing that children remain unaffected or, if worried, that they will “grow” out of it.

But the demise of friends and acquaintances is a reminder, as if one needed it, that death, taxes and the increased price of decent scotch are always with us.

The most agonizing aspect of my mother’s final years was not her increasing senility, but the fact that over those few years, her life slowly shrank around her. It was hard to watch, harder still to help with the distribution of her belongings and heart-breaking to see her reduced to a single room in an auxiliary hospital, containing a few pictures, a television set, her favourite chair and a side table.

With each move, she carried with her less and less. Her life shrank from the world to one room. Such is a warning to those who have not yet qualified for an old-age pension: Beware the little life.

Still, if one believes in an afterlife, if one has a faith, then the 16th-century words of John Donne in Holy Sonnet 10 offer ease and hope for those facing the inevitable: “Death be not proud, though some have called thee/ Mighty and dreadful, for thou are not so … One short sleep past, we wake eternally,/ And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.”

For the rest of us, this is all we have.

Complete Article HERE!

Long-term caregivers experience an anticipatory grief and peace

By

I have been learning more about long-term illness, caregivers, grief and peace. Two experiences were so helpful:

• I was invited as a guest speaker by the Last Chapter Group at Bacoa (formerly Barrington Area Council on Aging) co-facilitated by Pam Pellizzari, memory programs director, and clinical social worker Deb Torres. But I ended up learning a lot from them! This is a great group with thoughtful members. It is open free to caregivers, both family and professionals, as well as bereaved and community members. It meets once a month on Zoom. Contact Pellizzari at (847) 881-0477.
• A friend who explained to me, one-on-one, about the experience of being a three-year caregiver at home to her beloved husband. How totally encompassing it was, what she did, and her own recovery from that. How she feels she did the right thing, and how giving of yourself as a caregiver does bring peace.

I am very grateful to these three. I learned so much:

Grief may be quite different for long-term caregivers — those who have devoted themselves to taking care of a spouse or parent for several years because of a slow, but terminal illness — and for medical professional caregivers working with memory patients.

The big differences seem to be:

• Anticipatory grief: They know it’s inevitable and coming in a year, two years, three years, so they partially prepare emotionally for it ahead of time. This often softens the blow when the day comes. I knew about this concept of course, but didn’t realize how important it really is to long-term caregivers.

• A sense of relief that comes for both their loved one and for themselves.

• A sense of “finding peace” or “being at peace.” Peace not just for the beloved, but a sense of “being at peace” for the caregiver herself or himself.

I remember at the after-burial dinner for my own dear husband, a friend came up to me to console me. She had been a caregiver at home to her husband who died after a long terminal illness. She said how sorry she was and then added: “In a way it’s a relief.”

I was horrified. My husband had died from a totally unexpected stroke. I just said, “Oh no, I would have helped him forever, even if all he could do is listen to me reading him a nice story.” I had no idea what she meant.

So I just walked away to join the others, not understanding what she had experienced herself as a longtime caregiver to her dying husband. I did not understand.

I also did everything I could for my beloved Baheej, but it was not at-home caregiving. I lived with him day and night in his hospital room for his last seven weeks. He was taken to the hospital the night of his stroke and never came home again. I just moved in the hospital with him. The luggage from our trip the day before was still in the car, so I had clothes, and what I needed to stay. And after a few weeks, after his second stroke, which was in the hospital, I was told he would not recover. But I just stayed with him and did what I could to keep him company and watch over his care. But still, his death was so sudden.

So I am very grateful for this helpful group and friend. And it makes me think of the importance of support groups; It could be your own family and friends, or it could be a community support group for bereaved. It’s important to select a group that fits with your own experiences and situation, so that you can learn from others and they are having discussions that help you and each other.

Actually I belonged to a women’s support group that used to meet on Monday mornings at a local Lutheran church. They invited me as a guest speaker, and when they asked me to join, they were such nice and interesting women, I did! We had great discussions and usually went out to lunch together after the meeting. We don’t meet now of course. I miss them.

The point is: Grief takes many forms, many manifestations. And it’s important to support those dealing with prolonged caregiving — probably someone right in your own friendship circle, your neighborhood, your interest groups, your church or your own family. The more we understand, the more we can extend ourselves and help others.

Complete Article HERE!

That Weird Feeling You Have Could Be Because You’re Numbing Out

By Vicky Spratt

How can you comprehend the incomprehensible? I’ve spent much of this week wondering. I understand the horror of the daily death toll but I cannot feel it. I read the words “the United Kingdom is one of the coronavirus death capitals of the world” and nothing happens. Last year, I cried more than once during the daily briefing which used to punctuate my day. Not for myself but for everyone who had lost their life, for everyone who had lost someone they loved. I was actively grieving for others and for something more nebulous: the time lost to the pandemic, the plans rescheduled, the hopes forcibly realigned. I know that I am at once still angry (with our politicians, mainly) and in mourning (for everything) but I am not actively experiencing either emotion.

Last Wednesday, 1,820 people died because of COVID-19. On Thursday it was 1,290. To put that in perspective, around 1,500 people died on the RMS Titanic, a disaster around which our collective psyche has calcified. In two days we saw almost double that. The most commonly flown plane by easyJet is the Airbus A320CEO. These seat between 180 and 186 people at a time. So, on Wednesday, the number of people who were recorded in the daily death toll was equivalent to 10 of those planes falling out of the sky at once.

We had hoped that things would be better by now, even when experts warned us they would not be. It was too much to bear to think they might stay the same but unconscionable that they would get worse. Even if we knew, on some level, that it might happen, we tried not to entertain the possibility.

How could we, when what we are living through barely fits inside our brains, let alone can be broken down, digested and converted into thoughts so that it can be understood. Until Thursday, according to analysis by Oxford University, the UK had the highest per-person daily death toll of any country in the world. Yes, that’s right – it was around twice that of the United States, a country which is roughly 40 times bigger

As the reality of the third national lockdown sinks in, I’m aware of how much smaller my world has become. I move between my desk, my hob, my fridge, my bathroom and my bed. I don’t even go out on the balcony right now because it’s too cold. Yet I’m constantly aware of how big everything that’s happening to our world is. I worry about friends and family. I worry about NHS staff. I worry about the economy. But I do not feel anxiety or anguish like I did during the first lockdown.

The most commonly flown plane by easyJet is the Airbus A320CEO. These seat between 180 and 186 people at a time. So, on Wednesday, the number of people who were recorded in the daily death toll was equivalent to 10 of those planes falling out of the sky at once.

Why? I am stupidly fortunate in so many ways but it’s not like I haven’t experienced this virus at close quarters. I’ve had it twice. And while I was not hospitalised, the second time was particularly bad. It took six weeks to properly recover from and, in the fifth week, I “turned green” and nearly fainted on a short walk. Some days all I can taste is metal. I have aches that make no sense. I know people who have been hospitalised and, in the last two weeks, I know three people who have lost loved ones.

Yet I cannot locate my feelings; I can no longer be certain how any of this is affecting me, what I am able or afraid to feel. I go outside, it feels better. I notice my body rearrange itself. I open up but I still feel…a bit numb.

Perhaps it’s not surprising. It’s not unusual for people who are grieving to experience emotional numbness. On some level right now, we are all grieving for someone or something. David Kessler, the world’s foremost expert on grief, called this very early on in March last year. He explained that, regardless of whether we had been personally affected by the pandemic yet, we were experiencing “collective grief” and “anticipatory grief”. He also noted how unusual it was. “I don’t think we’ve collectively lost our sense of general safety like this,” he said. “Individually or as smaller groups, people have felt this. But all together, this is new. We are grieving on a micro and a macro level.”

That may all be true but should I be worried that I can’t feel? Or should I embrace it as part of the ongoing task of processing the pandemic? I’m hardly alone in finding this lockdown harder to navigate than the others. Last week Ipsos Mori released a survey of 2,000 adults, of which 43% said they were finding things harder right now, with just 10% saying they were finding it easier.

When we haven’t got enough energy left to process what’s going on around us, we push it down to a subconscious level.
— Linda Blair

Clinical psychologist and author of The Key To Calm, Linda Blair, says that feeling numb is actually self-protective. It’s a coping mechanism. “When we haven’t got enough energy left to process what’s going on around us, we push it down to a subconscious level,” she explains. “The body and mind’s first command is to stay alive. You have to remain alert to the dangers around you but you will push down the actual extent of that danger.”

However, Linda notes that while this is very common “at the beginning of a disaster” or immediately in the aftermath of the death of a loved one, “none of us have known a disaster that’s gone on this long. So we keep cycling into numbness which is not normal.”

None of this is to say that numbing out is necessarily bad. “You really have to respect yourself,” Linda explains. “Your instinct knows what you need and if you need to dial down your feelings in order to go about your daily activities right now, then that is what you should do. Yes, it will hit us later. But everyone’s grieving process will be different and it may be that we have to overcome the public health crisis before we can truly process what it means.”

Almost a year into the pandemic and we hear very few cries from people who want things to “go back to normal”. We know now, beyond any doubt, that everything has changed and that the point at which it changed is now an entire trip around the sun behind us.

Yale historian Frank Snowden studies epidemics. He is particularly interested in how they hold a mirror up to society, to the conditions in which they were able to spread. His most recent book, Epidemics and Society: From the Black Death to the Present, is the result of 40 years of research on the topic.

He notes that “epidemic diseases reach into the deepest levels of the human psyche. They pose the ultimate questions about death, about mortality: What is life for? What is our relationship with God? If we have an all-powerful, omniscient, and benign force, how do we reconcile that force with these epidemics that sweep away children in extraordinary numbers?” These are huge questions, all of which are being asked daily as we try to grapple with what’s going on around us.

So as we buffer collectively, perhaps it’s okay that everything that has happened during the last 12 months is taking a while to sink in, just as everything we must prepare for in the future feels impossible to get to grips with. Perhaps it’s okay that we need to conserve our energy to get through the day, rather than exerting it all in anger at the home secretary as she says we should have shut our borders at the start of the pandemic. Perhaps it’s okay to feel a little bit desensitised to it all if it means you can get through the day because, even with the hope brought by vaccines on the horizon, we are still very much in this.

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