Grieving for futures lost to COVID

And the old widow goes to the stone every day

But I don’t, I just sit here and wait

Grieving for the living

(Taylor Swift – Ivy)

The past 18 months have suspended life in ways we didn’t believe were possible. Time feels gooey and heavy, sticking onto everything it touches. We, the collective youth, on the cusp of discovering careers and forming identities, are now being forced to develop a hyper-awareness of how long a day, week, month really is… and how fast it can slip by too.

I often find myself awake at night in awe at how surreal everything feels. Sad about not being able to see my family and friends overseas, (and now not even able to visit those living in the same city as me.) Desperate to enjoy myself and this time of being ‘young’. Striving for some kind of optimism.. Angry at myself for feeling sorry about myself. Grateful when I remember I haven’t lost anyone. 

We are all living completely different lives from what we had envisioned for ourselves. Even for those of us who never had a plan. This has drained the open ocean of possibilities that we could’ve been diving in right now. The more I speak with others the more I hear about that distant reality we all gave up around 10 months ago. Instead, we confront these lost plans, cancelled events, broken promises, with phrases like, “if it wasn’t for the pandemic…” (Blurring the line further between what was once only said by over-dramatic-young-adult-dystopian-fiction protagonists and our tired reality.) If I hear someone say one more time, ‘this is the new normal’ or ‘I want things to go back to normal’… well let’s just say maybe ‘normal’ was never as static as we thought.

We had been so lucky in Australia to not endure much of what the rest of the world had. But it seems like our borrowed time is charging the bill now. The sacrifices not only persist but multiply. 

Yet, looking around, we are still painfully aware of ‘this luck’ despite no longer feeling this way. Many of us not having to live through financial stress during never-ending lockdowns, still able to video-call our loved ones, waking up in a safe neighbourhood and exercising for an hour after watching everything Netflix has to offer on the weekends.

So what is STILL wrong with us? (Apart from the blatantly obvious.) 

While this experience might be giving us a compulsory one-on-one lesson on the value of resilience, and deep inside we know “this too shall pass,” there is no point denying how we truly feel right now. Devastated. Suffocated. Fatigued. 

Keeping our heads up and trying to look on the bright side of things is necessary. But there is also a time and place to collectively lay down and reflect on our very valid emotions. We could continue using the classic deflection of “but others have it worse than me!”, or minimising our feelings by categorising them as “complaints.” Or maybe we should push past this rhetoric and realise feeling down for any loss, however big or small, takes a toll in what already has been a rollercoaster two years.

We need to confront our collective grief if we are to eventually emotionally recover. We are allowed to feel sad about our cancelled holiday, the lost family and friend reunions, the fatigue of experiencing world-changing events back to back to back. Grief is not just about death but about loss. A very real and normal reaction to how much we’ve had to unpredictably give up since the beginning of the pandemic. Although there is no quick fix for it, especially as many of us are still under lockdown or restrictions, understanding what we are going through and giving it a name can set us in the right direction to healing. 

Some of the common reactions to loss are described as:

  • Loss of control over your thoughts and feelings.
  • Difficulty concentrating.
  • Numbness.
  • Anxiety and fear.
  • Irritability, frustration and anger at yourself, someone else or the situation at hand.
  • Lethargy and general exhaustion.

Sound familiar? Of course, many of these symptoms can be clearly attributed to crisis fatigue and a mix of the issues that these events create too. But perhaps approaching our conflicted emotions through a few different angles, could help us process them better and reintegrate them into the wider narrative of our lives. 

Some of the self-care techniques we can engage in to keep afloat right now include:

  • Taking care of our physical wellbeing by getting proper nutrition, physical activity and sleep. 
  • Talking to others about our feelings. 
  • Acknowledge our emotions, and allow ourselves to safely feel them without judgement. Not letting others dictate how to feel and stop telling ourselves how we should feel too. 
  • Try to maintain hobbies and meaningful routines. 
  • Switch off social media and triggering news.
  • And perhaps most importantly too, understand the difference between grief and depression. 

Giving our loss meaning can be cathartic. Maybe not immediately, but definitely in the long term. If we listen to what our heart and body are trying to communicate with us, we can slowly detangle the emotional knots that have been building up during this time, and hopefully, allow us to be kinder to ourselves with each day that goes by.

If someone tells me one more time

Enjoy your youth

I’m gonna cry.

(Olivia Rodrigo – Brutal)

 

If you or anyone you know needs help:

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