2020 – Life in Lockdown

A year of truly understanding the value of connections, relationships and self-resilience.

Loss, Love, Loneliness and Laughter

For me, like many I’m sure, a rollercoaster year where the lowest lows have been visited, and the highs of appreciation have taken flight. Who we have in our life, and the strength we didn’t know was ours, all tested by challenges we wouldn’t have considered only a year before. How the world has flipped and all that we knew as normal, became alien. A long distant memory of a life so different that now it feels quite surreal.

Loss ….buffeted by a cascade of pain.  Wounds not getting a moment to heal before a new one is torn open.

Loss comes in many forms; loss of life, Health, work / career, and relationships to name just a few of which I have personally suffered this year.  Again, I am not alone in this for this is the year that so many of us have unfortunately encountered a multitude of losses.  I am in no way an expert in writing about loss, but in these past 12 months I have lost my beloved mum suddenly, closely followed by my precious Aunty, several dear friends, a neighbour and most recently my treasured Uncle.  I also lost my job in which I’d served 35 years.  I lost confidence, a loss of freedom that in the generation to which I was born and those born after, is something we’ve never had to question before. All this, along with the loss of the sense of control in my life – and a whole lot more, as I’m sure many readers will identify.

Loss of a loved one in lockdown is quite simply, awful.  There will be many more eloquent words to describe it, but I keep it simple deliberately for in grief everything else seems too complex and I need simple just now. Losing a loved one is hard in any circumstance, whether we live close to them, or at a distance.  (which seems to be more and more the norm in modern family life).  What we need at the time of loss is comfort, love, understanding and support.  Where physical distance is an issue, technology allows us to connect (thankfully) much easier than ever before, and so many of these needs can be met. We can see our loved ones via a video link. Messages can be sent. Phone calls made. Flowers/gifts/cards all can be sent.  However, what we miss is the hug. The physical touch. The emotional warmth and strength given by another person when we most need it. A time when people’s presence brings far more than which we can give a name to.  I was fortunate in that my mum and my Aunty’s funeral were held before the national Lockdowns.  We were able to have the comfort of the physical presence.  Our families were able to travel and grieve together.  Uncle’s passing occurring during our National Lockdown, was a different experience. I cannot attend his funeral. I could not visit him before he left us. His wife and children will not have the family and friends that they so dearly need at their side.  Not physically. In hearts and in minds, yes, but not in reality.  That is tough.  So the pain transcends from that which is felt from personal loss, into that of sadness and despair for those to whom are dealing with so much, alone, in such difficult times.  Remember, it’s not just the emotional support needed in times of loss. There’s the practical help which cannot be offered, nor received, as easily or readily, in lockdown.  Having to do so much more alone.

As I touched upon earlier, there is also the loss of work.  Again, a situation encountered by so very many this year.  Usually, leaving work would entail having a support system in place. Whether that is emotional support from colleagues, or practical support and advice from the system appropriate to your own country.  But in lockdown, that too is minimal. Colleagues perhaps now working from home, not there to see you as you leave the office for the last time; no farewell drinks and shared stories or well wishes for a positive future ahead. Just a sad and quiet exit, closing the door gently to a lifetime of memories and experiences.  The fear of the unknown future – usually there would be a support network to aid that. A system where the previously long-term employed are guided to resources and training.  That has not been present during lockdown. Everything closed, or minimum staff which reduces the service provided.  Everything is down to you .. to us, to each of us to find our own way in what can be a very strange and very scary new journey.

Similar too for health worries.  The usual avenues are not as available. Much is deferred to a later date.  Worries grow as appointments decline. Support networks are much reduced.

I must at this point remind that Counselling is an option – and one which is most beneficial.  However, for those who need a person to person experience, then it’s another wait, for currently the mainstream of counselling is only available online, due to social distancing.  But it’s still an option, don’t overlook that if you are in need of help or support.

Please note that I am simply observing the differences between loss during what we call our normal life, and now, during a time which to many of us is unprecedented. A time where restrictions and rules prevent us from grieving and supporting in the way in which we’ve previously been accustomed. And offering considerations as to how we manage these differences. How we cope with the change.  This is where we need to be aware. To care. To notice and to consider what we can do.  For those who are grieving, it’s a time where reaching out becomes even more necessary.  To push oneself beyond comfort zones and let people know what you need.  And for the world to look, listen and take action in a different way.  To actively ask a person what they need. To pick up the phone and have a conversation. Its not for me to suggest the answers, I just want to raise awareness that we must remember to do things a little differently, because our world is now different. And the world of the bereaved is different far beyond what they could ever have imagined.

Love ….many words, poems, songs and other literature have been written to express love. But for the majority of the population, this year in particular, my guess is that we need to see and to feel it.

It’s in the little things, the day to day gestures, the acts of kindness.  As the well known song suggests, “love is all around us”.  We just have to look, to be open to seeing it, to feel it; to accept it.

I believe our world is full of love. During lockdown, and the many social restrictions imposed upon us by Covid-19, we face many challenges.  Challenges so diverse that they would warrant an article of their own.  Each personal to ourselves, both in nature and intensity.  However, amongst that are the hidden gems, that perhaps in these darkened circumstances may shine even brighter…if we choose to look.  Those moments that can be the difference between feeling truly isolated and alone, to feeling part of something more. Whether it’s being your partner’s ‘other half’, being a cherished family member, a beloved friend, or a valued part of a community.   The moments where a shared smile perhaps whilst in one of the many supermarket queues, can give an instant connection. An unexpected phone call or text from family or friends, uplifting in a way that can suddenly brighten and change our whole day.    From that daily morning cup of tea made for you, to someone making efforts to ensure your lockdown birthday or other personal event, is not missed or forgotten.  Homemade gifts and gestures, made with love and given freely. Thoughtful and creative home activities planned.   A daily meal cooked and served.  A tail-wag from our faithful pooch.  Our rubbish bins taken out by a neighbour when we’re not able, shopping collected and delivered.  A wave and a smile, as a neighbour passes by your window.

We just have to look to see. It’s easy to forget to look, when things get tough.  But it’s there. Love is all around us.

Loneliness …..feeling so alone in all that’s painful.  The darkness that envelopes, removing any remaining chink of light.  A sadness so deep that there are times when an alternative emotion cannot even be imagined never mind thought possible.

Loneliness can be such a crippling and disabling experience.  And we all are aware that it can be the cause of depression. Loneliness in lockdown is quite possibly most experienced, by the majority.  By nature, we are a social lot.  People’s level of need of social interaction may differ, but I think that we all need it to some degree.  For those who have regular people contact, for example can go to work, (or are part of a work group who still connect whilst working from home), those who can go to a shop, those who have family living with them, those who can communicate via social networks, will all be having a very different experience of this year, than those of our community who cannot do any of those things and are feeling very alone in their world.  That said, loneliness doesn’t always mean to be alone.  How often have you been in a crowded room and felt more alone than ever?  Have you been working in an office and felt ‘out of it’, not belonging to the team?  What about in a relationship where there are missing connections?  Not seeing or communicating with anyone for long periods of time.  All of these may lead to the feeling of loneliness.

During lockdown, and isolation particularly, we are in danger of having to face the difficult, and possibly previously unexperienced, feelings of loneliness.  Similarly, as per my comment in respect to loss, I think it’s ever more important to reach out. To recognise what we need and to ask for it.  That may seem obvious, but it can also be easier said than done, and at times I imagine may even seem impossible.  So perhaps it’s worth considering loneliness before we get to that point?  What do you think you would you need?  What would be helpful, and who could provide that? Is this something you can talk about with a family member, close friend or neighbour and have a plan in place?

Of course, not everyone will feel lonely. They maybe alone, but not lonely.  It would be good therefore, to consider that others may be having a very different experience to yourself.  Give a moment to check in with a friend. Ask how they are. Call or message someone you’ve not heard from for a while – it only takes a moment.  If you’re waiting in a queue, briefly look up from your phone, glance around and see if a person is seeking eye contact, and give them a smile. Giving a smile or a passing comment to a stranger could make the world of difference to their day, and indeed to their week.

Laughter

Laughter is truly a tonic and the more we laugh the better we feel.  In turn, the better we feel, the more we’re able to cope with the more difficult times.  Laughter can enable us to regain our balance.

Again, during 2020 and the social restrictions imposed upon us, loss, uncertainty, and isolation, all possibly make laughter seem part of  another life.

I think that laughter comes easier when we have an appreciation of something. A happiness.  For the purpose of this article, I’m going to suggest that it’s an appreciation of life. An appreciation of life that can give us happiness – no matter what else is going on outside of our immediate control.

Happiness & appreciation …. I have learnt that these come most easily from living in the moment. When we’re truly in a moment, we can see clearly. We can temporarily discard the frosted lens that can so easily obscure our vision, and we momentarily see with a clarity that can bring all the appreciation that we seek. Our world around us offers a myriad of opportunity to seek and find joy, and hence an inner happiness.

During Lockdown, we can still look into exploring creativity and art, we may listen to music, or just open our eyes and really look around us…perhaps during our walks for daily exercise, or whilst in our garden, or even from a window – see the stunning colours and hear the sense fulfilling sounds that nature offers us. We can notice the small gestures that our family, friends, neighbours and even strangers do with, and for us.  Decide to say yes more. Don’t look for reasons not to join in or to try something different or new.  Just try something purely for fun.

By creating a space to experience happiness, the simple things slowly return to our focus and before we know it, we’re laughing again at the day to day joys in life.

Surviving lockdown and isolation …..

For many, there has been a fear that this new way of life will continue at least for a good while to come.  This takes me back to the point made about staying in the moment.  Let’s try to accept that today is as it is, and then consider how do we make it the best that we can? No matter our circumstances. Just make it our best.    Focus, (as a very dear person has taught me) on what we can do…and not what we can’t.

So what can we do?

Pass it forward….once we recognise the true value of the small acts of everyday kindness, we can pass them on. We’ve all read or seen movies where we see giving happiness to others brings happiness back to us too. A win-win situation. And In lockdown /restricted socialising, it’s even easier to do.  Take a moment to look up and smile at the person near you.  Give a moment to listen to your neighbour when they pass in the street. Send a message to someone you’ve not had contact with for a little while.  Be patient with others when waiting in these dreadful queues, for basics that came to us so much easier not that long ago!

Make the most of the simple, everyday things.  Meals become a focus when isolating.  I certainly found that suddenly our daily meals were appreciated by family members in a whole new way!  Planning, preparing and producing meals became a time of renewed pleasure, a shared activity where previously it had become a daily chore.

If possible, use video links to meet and chat with family and friends.  Nothing compares to being with a person in ‘real life’, but a face to face chat, quiz or even fancy-dress fun can certainly lift spirits!

Making special efforts for birthdays and events that are during periods of lockdown.  Rather than waiting for ‘a better time’, or just not bothering at all.  We had a BBQ earlier in the year for our son’s birthday, same for my day of leaving work – we just had some drinks and a BBQ and I pretended it was my ‘leaving do’!!  On our Wedding Anniversary we had an evening of outdoor drinks (in November!) which involved lots of fur throws, magical fairy lights and a lovely homecooked three course meal, with an accompaniment of music from the era of our wedding. Our daughter, who lives in her own home now, arranged an evening for her partner’s birthday where the two of them decorated each downstairs room as a different bar. They then proceeded to goto a different ‘bar’ for a different drink, with a different genre of music playing during the evening, ending with a home-cooked meal.

To sum up, 2020 has been a mixed bag for all of us.  We’ve encountered new layers to life that we’ve perhaps previously not considered.  Our experience to Loss, Love, Loneliness and Life in general has been a huge learning curve this year, and I know we still have more to come.  But most importantly, we still retain the gift of laughter. We still have it in our power to create and to discover the fun in life – even when our freedoms are restricted or removed.

(c) Debbie walker

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