Wednesday 15 April 2020

Grief In Isolation

Hello everyone.

The world has finally stopped. At least, that is how it both looks, and feels. People are describing their current, temporary losses - routines, freedom, certainty, safety - in ways that are distinctly grief-like. I can, of course, only speak for my own experience when it comes to grief and loss - but these are all things that were lost to me when Kinga was killed. The world ceased to make sense - and now, with a global pandemic gripping everyone, the world has managed to become even more implausible. I spoke in my last post about how this world where Kinga no longer exists feels like an alternate timeline... That feeling only seems to grow, as this reality becomes less grounded, and all the more absurd.

Like many, I entered a period of self-isolation after developing symptoms. I only had to isolate for 7 days - not 14 - literally because Kinga died, and I live alone as a result. Were Kinga here, 14 days alone with her honestly sounds great - we were constantly lacking on time together due to work commitments.... But she is not. That timeline is one that I know a lot of bereaved people can relate to right now. It struck me that this is literally the longest time I have spent away from anyone, possibly ever. This period of time has been amongst the most challenging, and dark I have ever lived - I have been forced to survive without the few small things routines and rituals that have kept me going these past 16 months... I can't imagine how I would have felt, had this happened at this time, last year.

I decided to write this post for a couple of reasons: but chief among them, I think, is just to remind the world that now more than ever, it is vital to not allow this time of  physical isolation to breed actual isolation... That now, perhaps even more than usual, it is important to recognise the unique impact that this pandemic can have on grief, and perhaps more general mental health. My experience is all too common: but now feels like a deeply relevant time to talk about it.

Our flat in Plymouth. We had more time in those days - we would have had so much more fun in isolation.

In the early days of grief, the fact that the world kept on spinning felt like an insult - the idea that the vast majority of people were not directly affected by Kinga's death - that she was just another tragic face and name plastered in the local headlines - It was not something my mind could understand (to tell you the truth, it never really has). I selfishly wanted everyone to grieve her - even those that never even knew she existed. I wanted everyone to be miserable, to feel deeply uncomfortable living in such a dangerous, unpredictable world. I couldn't understand how apathetic the world was to her death. I think, as humans, we often feel invincible - we live with that whole mentality of bad things only really happening to other people - risks are conceptual, up until the point they become real. The pre-grief version of myself was guilty of that too. In so many ways, the world at large right now seems to be gathering a growing awareness of just how fragile our existence really is - but I have little doubt that those not directly affected will return to apathy once the dust has settled.

But now the world has stopped. For me, it stopped just as it finally began to slowly start spinning again. I know, from my support group, that so, so many of the bereaved are struggling right now. It takes a monumental amount of effort to build momentum in a post-loss world. For me, the person who killed Kinga had finally been charged - just in time for the courts to close.  Literally all positive plans that had been made - no matter how minor - were cancelled. I no longer can visit Kinga - as I did once or twice every week - because the cemetery is closed. Early in my grief, I established a rule to protect my own mental health from (ironically) isolation - whereby I would go out every single day (a rule that has been vital and consistent in my grief) - but I lost even that, when I had to self-isolate. Everyone is losing right now. Greater losses - people, livelihoods. But, when you have lost that which made your life worth living - and then lose what little else was left... It is so, so hard to retain any measure of hope.

Dawlish - one of our early anniversaries. Happiness... Sunshine... Perfection.

This period of forced isolation felt entirely like an entirely different world to me. I had only my own company (and mercifully, our hamster), which is something I have not been entirely comfortable with since Kinga was killed. Early in my grief, I realised that sitting still simply brought attention to the inescapable void in my life that Kinga left behind - hence I developed the aforementioned rule where I had to keep moving. I think it is inevitable that in grief, we will try and fill that void (an impossible task) - be it with more socially acceptable things (like exercise, or hobbies), or less acceptable things, like alcohol. Isolation forced me to sit in my flat, with my grief, and without any of my socially acceptable coping mechanisms. My brain, which had finally begun to regain it's focus somewhat, was complete unprepared for just how overwhelming grief in inescapable isolation could be. It was like being stuck with a giant, hulking, starving monster.

Those seven days were a blur. I recall getting to Thursday, and having a minor panic attack because I believed, truly, that it was a Monday. Time loses all sense of meaning when your person dies - and that is even more true in periods of concentrated grief. I believe that is also why this current pandemic is hitting bereaved people especially hard... I've talked before about how hard the future is as a concept, when you have lost your partner, and your almost expected future. It forces you to exist in the present - day by day, hour by hour - sometimes even minute by minute in order to manage your reality. When your present feels utterly hopeless - it is hard to feel any kind of hope that life will get better. Whenever I have talked to people about how hard I have found this lockdown - they like to assure me that it is 'temporary'. When time is a complete illusion - when there is no tangible future - temporary loses it's meaning. The present is the only, unfortunate, reality.

One of our first truly big adventures - Paris, 2012

I recall finally leaving my flat after those seven blurry days - and seeing how the world had changed. I began developing symptoms shortly after the lockdown announcement (they passed after a couple of bad days - whether it was Covid-19 or not, I likely will never know), and people weren't taking many measures yet to combat it. The world afterward... Was strange. It was similar to how it felt leaving our house in the really early days of grief (dizzy, surreal, tilted) - but this time... It was kind of how I imagined it being after she died - instead of the world just kind of continuing as it did back then. The streets were emptied. The people I saw avoided me - some wearing face masks. I had stepped into a different world than the one I had left. My grief left me wondering if all of this was just more fallout from Kinga's death - more evidence of the world just going completely wrong without her. That probably seems a ridiculous thought to those not affected by early bereavement - but grief so easily becomes the centre of my own existence.

We are still in lockdown, of course. I am not personally in isolation. I can (and do) walk, now, and  can work again. I think it would be easy to believe that that small piece of freedom means that all that I have written about is past tense now - but it is not. Regaining lost momentum is impossible right now, whilst the world (ironically) refuses to spin. Even as clarity begins to make a comeback - it will likely be some time before hope does the same. I know so, so many feel that right now... In an era of seemingly forced positivity, I think it is so damn important to recognise and validate the truth of what we are feeling.

We were both kind of in love with these chairs!

So... This was a very different post for me - but it feels like an important one for right now. This blog isn't mine - it is Kinga's - but I believe she would approve of what I write here - and the messages I receive from it. I'm not yet ready to fully speak about the full extent of the darkness my grief has wrought - but I hope to, one day - if people continue to find it helpful. Writing truly does bring about a sense of order amongst my thoughts, a level of connection with the world, and a degree of catharsis to me. I've said it before, but I believe everyone should write about their grief, and mental health.

More importantly, if you are isolated, and struggling - you're not alone. I know - I really, really know -  just how damn alone it feels - but you aren't. And if you're reading this, and not struggling? Reach out to someone who is. There is enough death in the world on account of this pandemic - and whilst the world is focused on curing the physical side of this disease... Loneliness, despair, isolation - they are all killers too - we shouldn't allow them to operate in silence.

Thank you as always to everyone who reads this. I intend (as I did before this pandemic) for my next post to once again highlight some more of Kinga's writing. Her legacy forever lives and breathes in this space, even if she can't add to it any more.

'Til the end of time, Cub.


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