Of course, though we're collectively being impacted, we're each impacted differently. We're each losing different things. The mother on maternity leave is losing the life of coffee mornings and baby groups she'd been looking forward to. My twelve year old is losing her new-found freedom. Students are missing nights out and exams. Some will miss their final year of school or graduation. Grandparents are missing their grandchildren. Many people are losing the activities that helped them to feel sane and connected. And, in case we forget, there are other people who are losing their lives to this silent killer and others who are being denied the opportunity to say goodbye. That's a whole new layer to grief.
There's so much that could be written on the subject, so much that is being written. About how much more impacted the people living in small flats with no gardens are. About how horrendous it must be for people who are trapped at home with abusive parents or partners. About how this is situation is overwhelmingly worse for the people who are being forced to keep travelling on public transport, who are working on the frontline, who have lost their jobs, who don't have an Ocado reserved pass. There's no question that this is a lot easier for people like me. I'm a single parent and that's hard but I'm privileged. I live in a lovely house with a lovely garden in a leafy part of town. And, though I've lost my usual way of making a living and am not eligible for as much government support as some, I can adapt my business to work online and I have savings. I am incredibly grateful.
What I want to write about though, is how I believe this is easier for me not just because I'm privileged, but because I've already lived through so much grief and trauma. To be honest, I'm so accustomed to my life being derailed, that this new reality feels relatively easy to absorb. I'm a bit peeved that every time I think life might get better, something else goes wrong but this is how I've come to expect life to go. I'm a bit bored and a lot tired but, as a single parent, I'm used to that. I'm used to not being able to go out when I want to and I'm used to juggling children and working from home. It's not a dramatic change for me. Mostly though, I'm familiar with having my world turned upside down overnight and to having to adjust. I'm used to having to survive in a world that is not of my choosing. I can apply everything I've learned from the loss of my partner to this new situation and, so far, it's really helping.
Here's what I learned. I share it in case it helps you too.
We are not in control of life. We we can plan for the future but we can never guarantee that the future we plan for will come to fruition. The future is always unwritten and unpredictable. When my partner died, I stopped thinking of the future and learned to get through each day one at a time. That serves me well now. There's no point, for me, in wondering when this period will end or what I will do when it does. I just get up and set about getting through each day one at a time. That helps me. Don't get me wrong, I fantasise about hugging people and going on dates and on holidays but mostly I just think about what to do in this moment and the next. This is how life is built.
Even in the worst of times, there are always things that make us feel a bit better. We should lean towards those things and structure our days around them. Writing makes me feel better. It grounds me. Doing my work as a writing facilitator makes me feel better. I know that I should be gentle with myself and work less but working gives me a sense of purpose and helps me to feel useful, and feeling useful helps me to keep getting up in the morning. Being useful is something we can turn our attention to now. How can we play our part in helping someone worse off? When I experienced loss, writing about it and sharing my journey helped others and helping others made me feel better. Sharing writing prompts helps others now. It's the thing I can do that improves the lives of other people and that helps me too.
Being outside helps me to feel better. Everything feels more manageable with your feet or your hands on the earth and your eyes lifted to the sky. Exercise makes me feel better. I can't swim at the moment so I've returned to doing yoga. Moving my body helps to shift my mindset.
Connecting with people makes me feel better. So, I programme in those video calls, even though it's not the same, even though all this screen time is tiring. And I make the most of all of those events that I can now attend. Like so many people: the elderly and those with disabilities, single parents are no longer excluded from cultural events. I love that! And I stand in my garden and talk to my neighbours from two metres away. It makes me feel better. The truth is that this grief is so much easier than the grief I experienced before because we're in it together and everyone wants to chat to me. I don't feel nearly as isolated now as I did four years ago.
The sense of community is something I'm really grateful for. That there are always things to be grateful for and that beauty can be found even in the darkest days is something I learned in grief. Looking for the beauty is another thing that makes me feel better. In early grief, I hated being told to look for silver linings but, over time, I became expert at it and there are a multitude of beautiful things to notice now, especially if we can be outside and slow down. The sense of community as people clap the NHS, the tiny wonder of blossom unfurling, the laughter of children, a conversation with a neighbour that I never really knew before.
Being mindful is a game-changer. Giving your full attention to whatever you're engaged in can calm anxiety and make everything a source of wonder. As a child, I could lie on the ground and be completely absorbed in the movement of an insect on the grass. Those insects are still there now, if we stop and look. Even mundane tasks can be more enjoyable if pay attention to them, if we really feel the water on our hands as we wash them - again. And it's good to lose ourselves in any activity that absorbs us and that takes us away from what's in our minds, to cultivate that sense of flow by writing, dancing, playing music.
In grief I also learned a hard lesson for a high-achiever like me. It's a lesson that I've learned from chronic illness and single parenting too. I learned that I couldn't do it all and that I had to slow down. I learned to pace myself. Like grief, this is likely to be a marathon, not a sprint. It's ok to spend hours doing nothing much at all. My son has just spent five hours playing Minecraft. It's not ideal but he'll be ok. I will make him exercise after lunch and we'll play a game or do some baking. He knows that he is loved and that he is safe. That's what matters most. In grief, I learned to only pay attention to the things and the people that mattered most.
Still, it sucks, doesn't it? It sucks that our family holiday is cancelled and that I can't go on my writing retreat next week. It sucks that I'm on my own with no partner and that I've no idea when I can next go on a date (though grateful, so grateful that I'm not stuck with the wrong partner at this time!) It's hard work doing everything on my own. This is a difficult time, no question. We can't always be Pollyanna. And that's the other thing I learned from grief. I learned that it was ok to be honest. That it was ok to reach out to other people and say "I'm struggling with this". Just because other people have it worse doesn't take away from the reality that we're all finding this hard, that we're all losing our own particular things, that we're all experiencing grief. Grief needs to be expressed in order to be healed. So, I'm expressing myself. It helps me feel better. I hope it helps you too.
Something to be grateful for - the hotel garden in walking distance of my house.