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Grief during COVID-19

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The Good Grief Project presents a lockdown conversation between bereaved mothers Jane Harris and Lizzie Pickering about the world they find themselves in following the outbreak of COVID-19.

Part one: Isolation

“I wonder if we already have a toolkit to deal with Coronavirus?” Lizzie (bereaved mum)

For so many of the families we work with, it’s an understandably scary and anxious time. For those caring for a seriously ill child, their support network has shrunk or at least changed shape. And that’s on top of the extra worry of shielding their child and themselves from the Coronavirus. For families whose child has died, they might find themselves feeling even more alone and disconnected, struggling to make sense of how they feel.

Lizzie and Jane have found that in many ways there are lots of parallels with the current situation and their lived experience as bereaved parents. They hope that their thoughts and observations might help families find comfort and ways of coping in the days and weeks ahead.

Here, they use their unique perspective and insight from their own grief to share a toolkit for navigating today’s world.

Part two: This too shall pass

“In that first week … there were triggers that I found really difficult.” Lizzie (bereaved mum)

It occurred to both Jane and Lizzie that this strange and unfamiliar situation of a world in lockdown really does share parallels with the thoughts and feelings they had immediately after their children died. Many bereaved parents, or indeed anyone who’s ever lost someone, will experience the sensation of the world still spinning as it normally does – but suddenly your own individual world appears to have changed beyond recognition. They now look to the ‘new normal’ to be at ease with their thoughts and to deal with the uncertainty that COVID-19 has brought to our lives.

Some practical thoughts:

  • Firstly, and importantly, be aware that none of this is straightforward – but the fact that in many ways what we’re going through right now echoes what you might have gone through in losing a loved one can mean that in many ways you’re more prepared for it; but it can also trigger powerful emotions, thoughts and feelings that might have been locked away until now. Embrace or at least acknowledge both of these things. Maybe talk to someone who really knows how to listen without needing to fix it. (it cant be fixed but it can be supported).
  • Accept there may be a new normal. Be in the present more – Lizzie talks about when her son  Harry died “I really struggled with looking forward or back too far which was ultimately overwhelming. It’s the old adage but one that really rings true in today’s climate – take it one step at a time and try and live in the moment if you can.”
  • Resist overthinking, anxiety and panic as much as you possibly can. In the early stages of grief this is just impossible, but having gone through that once we find we are able to look at things and think ‘this is how it is – now how can I manage in this moment, this day, one step at a time?’
  • You can do this and you will get through.

Part three: Living in the moment

“As soon as anyone starts talking about next year … I slightly blank out.” Lizzie (bereaved mum)

Since Lizzie’s son died she’s never been able to trust in the future – fearing that something catastrophic could happen at any time. Yet over the years, and especially in this time of crisis, she’s found that ‘living in the present’ is a natural response to the current situation.

Part four: Continuing the bond

“Social distancing and physically distancing are different aren’t they? We are physically separate from our children but we are not emotionally separate.” Jane (bereaved mum)

With the passing of time Jane and Lizzie have found new ways to ‘continue the bond’ with their sons. Though they’re not physically in their lives anymore they have learned to live with that loss. They are survivors and have discovered that joy and sadness can coexist and that finding the new ways of connecting are really important at this difficult time.

Part five: In perspective

“Grief doesn’t frighten me anymore.” Jane (bereaved mum)

Jane was panic-stricken when lockdown began because she felt she would be forced into those feelings of grief again. But having learnt over the past nine years how to integrate and manage her grief she finds she can be at peace with today’s upheaval and live the best way that she can, every day that she can. Themes that will undoubtedly ring true for many of us at the moment.

Part six: Renew and regenerate

“There was a sense of awful loss, but also looking forward and finding a reason to live” – Lizzie (bereaved mum)

Although very shocked when the pandemic first started Lizzie soon found acceptance of the situation and now looks for meaning and possibilities for change in a world threatened by global warming – just as she has had to find meaning in the grief for her son.

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