The world has realised what the bereaved already knew: the future is not certain

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A field of purple flowers basked in sunlight

The world is grieving. We have lost so much. Loss of connection. Loss of normality. Loss of control. Loss of predictability. Loss of understanding. Loss of safety. Loss of the future we imagined.

You’ve lost control. Except, you never had control.

With so much changing, it’s not surprising that we are experiencing feelings of grief. But for those of us already in the club, who already understand bereavement, everything is weird, yes, but it’s familiar. We’ve been here before and we already know what so many are learning and coming to terms with: the future is not certain, we cannot control it, it can be snatched away in a moment.

The illusion of control

So many of us have plans for the future. We have a bucket list, a to-do list, dreams and ideas. We put dates in the diary and RSVP to invitations. We plan our meals, our hairstyles, what we’ll buy on pay day. And all of that leads to an illusion of control.

We start to feel, with so many plans set in stone, that we can control the future. That we know exactly how life is going to go. That’s why it’s so frustrating when you get stuck in traffic, your date cancels or you feel unwell. You’ve lost control. Except, you never had control.

Everyone needs to listen to Mo Gawdat

Is Mo Gawdat the wisest man on the planet right now? I have been listening to the incredible podcast How to Fail with Elizabeth Day, and this recent episode with Mo Gawdat is easily the most helpful thing I’ve heard since this pandemic started. Go listen now! Go on! Now! You can read the rest of this later…

For those of you still reading and not listening, Mo talks powerfully about the fact that we have never had, and will never have, control over our future, and this is a lesson learned quickly when you’re bereaved. I imagined my mum would help me into my wedding dress on my wedding day. I believed she would be a grandma to my future children. I thought I’d have to sort out care for her as she got older and frail. But I didn’t get any of that – the future I had planned was snatched cruelly away from me, and I had to accept that there is nothing you can do to control the future, you can only live in the present and be grateful for what you have.

Welcome to the grief club

For those of you who haven’t experienced grief before, welcome to the club. It’s a weird one. I’m not saying here that losing the ability to walk outside twice a day is the same as losing a loved one. But the feelings you’re experiencing, the loss you’ve suffered, is grief. There are many feelings associated with grief that are helpful to explain. You might have heard of the 5 Stages of Grief, a theory proposed by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross and David Kessler, which are: denial, anger, bargaining, sadness and acceptance. We’ve certainly all been feeling many if not all of those emotions as we process the pandemic and come to terms with the shock that came from sudden announcements and fast developments.

Denying the virus, anger at the rules, bargaining over limits, sadness of isolation, acceptance of the new normal – all familiar feelings across the world

However, it is widely misunderstood that these five stages are meant to be a neat, ordered, linear process. Grief is complex, chaotic and unpredictable, and the feelings of grief that Kubler-Ross and Kessler outlined are not experienced one at a time, or in any order, or in any way. There is no real control or order to the stages of grief – be prepared to feel them all within the same five minutes, or to think you’ve reached acceptance only to be back in denial the next morning. It’s all completely normal – we’ve been there and got the t-shirt, believe us!

What is helpful when you’re grieving

Now you’re getting used to these new feelings of grief, and the loss of control of your future, it’s helpful to give you ways to live with grief. Please note that I did not say here “get over grief”, “get through grief” or “move on from grief”. While it is probable that in this case, there will be a time when everything goes back to a sense of normality, it will never be the same again, because even if it’s just in the past, Covid-19 still happened, it still affected us and we still changed because of it.

It’s the same with any grief – you never move on from it, you just reshape around it. This incredibly helpful Twitter thread about a ball in a box analogy is so helpful to read. We also love Mum’s Jumper, a book by Jayde Perkin and published by Book Island Books, which is all about a little girl who grows into her grief, just like she grows into her mum’s jumper. You can buy it here – genuinely such a helpful book.

Here’s some things that are helpful to prioritise in this time of collective grief:

  • Nature and fresh air – OF COURSE only one walk a day is allowed, but do try and get some fresh air and beautiful nature when you’re out.
  • Sleep – rest is really important so try and get as much sleep as you can.
  • Talk to your friends and family as much as you can, but try not to dwell on coronavirus too much. Talk about positive things and what you’re enjoying with them.
  • Write stuff down, whether that’s in a journal or a notebook, or on your phone or in letters to yourself. Getting your feelings down on paper, and being in the moment, is important.
  • Maintain your hobbies (if you can indoors) – hobbies, and things to take your mind off things, are hugely important. I’ve been doing some scrapbooking!
  • Prioritise your physical health – exercise when you can and make sure you are looking after your body.

Be kind to yourself

I’ve told you that your future is not certain. I’ve told you that you’re experiencing grief. I’ve told you that you’ll experience lots of negative feelings. I should probably tell you some good news, right?! Actually, as Mo Gawdat says much more eloquently than I could, a lot of healing and positivity is tied to acceptance. When we accept that we cannot control the future, and that things will happen that are out of our hands, we are able to relax into the present and see the many blessings we do have.

This has been a long blog post so I will simply say this – be kind to yourself. Grief of any kind is a horrible thing, and so many of us have lost, and will lose, so much during this time. Let’s Talk About Loss will always be here, and we’ll always talk through the taboos.

Beth French

Have something you would like to share, about grief, loss or bereavement? We’d love to publish your story on our blog. Email Amy, our Blog Assistant, to submit your story.