I invited counsellor and psychotherapist Mandy Scotney, to share her insights with us on navigating grief and loss due to COVID-19. Most of us have experienced either the loss of jobs, income, family members due to illness or borders closing, freedoms to travel, freedoms to have family celebrations and more. The loss of control over our lives, freedoms and perhaps sense of identity has left many of us experiencing the grieving process. I knew Mandy would offer us a valuable professional insight with practical tips, but what I wasn’t expecting from her article was her own vulnerability of how her life was crumbling down around her too. An incredible read, with valuable food for thought.
‘The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of those depths.’
– Elisabeth Kubler-Ross
2020 started ominously. Our cities were filled with smoke while much of our bush burned and our usual New Year’s celebrations were muted and tainted by the horror of the fires around us. Yet we made our resolutions, set goals, created plans and believed that once the fires were out our dreams for 2020 would come to pass.
That was certainly the case for me. 2019 had been challenging on a number of fronts and I had a very clear intention about what I wanted to create in 2020 – soon I would be moving in with my partner of two years, I was going to find a fabulous senior role back in the travel industry I’d left a few years earlier, unleash my passport that had been unused for a few years, and enjoy a year of love, adventure and success. The fires had inspired me to take action around climate change, I was teaching yoga full-time while I job hunted, and I felt a strong sense of purpose and optimism around the year ahead.
Within three months ALL of that had changed.
A few weeks into January a Whatsapp message from my partner announcing that he was leaving me for another woman left me virtually crippled with grief. Grief so visceral and all encompassing that I lost my voice and it completely took my breath away. Not figuratively, but literally. I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t sleep. I found no joy in anything. I couldn’t process either the decision or the method for the break up. None of it made sense.
At that time Caronavirus was in our headlines but seemed a world away. A problem for China and a few other countries. A bad case of the flu. Enough of an issue for my doctor to ask me if I’d travelled overseas when I presented to her barely able to take a breath… but not really a pressing issue.
“I thought I could describe a state; make a map of sorrow. Sorrow, however, turns out to be not a state but a process.”
– C.S. Lewis
Grief is a process, and over the next month or so I moved through it’s stages. The denial, the anger, the bargaining and the ‘if onlys”, the depression and sadness, and some acceptance. Not in a linear fashion – more in waves, some gentle, some like tsunamis – but I moved through and gradually began the rebuilding process.
I had a few interesting job opportunities on the go, I made a promise to myself that as soon as I could secure a new role I’d book a short but fabulous overseas adventure, I treated myself to new hair, joined a choir, was training for my first half-marathon, and was spending lots of time with friends doing the things I love – shows, live music, comedy, and just being out in the city eating, drinking and having a great time. Getting my life back. Getting myself back. Rebuilding. I was even toying with the idea of dating again.
I joked many times, 2020 has been a long year but at least it couldn’t get any worse. And that at least I still had my yoga teaching.
And then came the ‘rona.
Almost 8 weeks after my world fell apart, I saw another tsunami on the horizon and this one would wipe out everything I had put in place to move me through the grieving process. In that week all the events I had booked cancelled, all the roles I had on the go disappeared, my income was swept away as the yoga studios closed, and I was facing a period of social isolation – alone.
All of the grief came back. It flooded me with fear, anxiety, sadness and a complete feeling of helplessness and hopelessness. I was back on the bathroom floor again… and this time questioning if I had the capacity to get back up.
But I did and what helped was that I recognised the feelings as grief…. and that grief is a process that can be moved through.
Grief and COVID-19
In these past four weeks we’ve all lost so much. Some of us have lost jobs and income. Some of us have lost the businesses we have strived for years to build. Some of us have lost friends and family members – to illness, or physical separations due to the closing of borders.
We’ve all lost our hopes and dreams for 2020, our travel plans have been cancelled, our family celebrations shut down. We’ve lost control, we’ve lost our freedom, our sense of identity and sense of who we are.
Every single one of us has experienced loss. No one has been spared.
All of us are grieving something right now.
So what to do about it? How can we move through it? Here’s a few thoughts that can help.
Acknowledge the grief caused by COVID-19
When we lose a loved one – be that through a death, a separation or a break up – we recognise the grief. When it’s a job or a dream, a lifestyle or a livelihood it can be harder to see our emotions as grief. But where there’s loss, there’s grief and acknowledging it gives you a lens to see your behaviour and feelings through. In naming the grief, it assists you to validate your feelings and create a sense of separation between yourself and the problem.
Remind yourself grieving is a process
A process is something you move through. It speaks of action and a shifting, rather than something fixed or permanent. And it gives you context and understanding for your feelings, thoughts and actions. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross is the thought-leader in this area and her books on grief, death and dying are some of the most inspiring and insightful books I have read.
Grief is a universal process that is unavoidable – just as loss is unavoidable in living. Remind yourself that you’re moving through a natural and ‘normal’ process, and that it’s something you moved through before. Perhaps it looks and feels different, but you’ve been there and you made it out the other side. You know it’s going to feel like crap, that you’ll have good days and bad… but that you’ve got what it takes to get through.
Embrace the power of impermanence
“This too will pass” has been a phrase on high rotation in my journaling and meditations in 2020. If nothing else this COVID-19 experience is living proof of this – and just like so much of our lives have been swept away, this period will also pass. The grief will shift and life will feel good again. Nothing stays the same.
This too will pass. In those moments where the grief weighs heavy and feels immovable, remind yourself of this.
Connect during COVID-19 restrictions
The phrases “social distancing” and “social isolation” sent cold shivers down my spine as we moved into this period of lock down. As an extrovert whose soul is fed through connection with others, the idea of social isolation and the ensuing loneliness felt almost unbearable. And even those most introverted among us still need to feel connected and supported through periods of grief.
So reach out. Keep the connections strong. Ask for help when you need it, and offer it when your intuition tells you others are struggling. Much of the research around disasters and trauma – those big periods of loss and grief – tell us that those with strong connections and support around them, process and deal with the trauma rather than getting stuck in it. Connection is literally a balm that soothes and heals.
The reality is that you will grieve forever…….. You will heal and you will rebuild yourself around the loss you have suffered. You will be whole again but you will never be the same. Nor should you be the same nor would you want to.”
– Elizabeth Kübler-Ross
I offer these words from Elizabeth Kubler-Ross as a hope and a prayer for each and everyone of us. We will heal. We will rebuild. And we won’t be the same. 2020 will always be the year we grieved together. But may it also be the year that shaped us and our world into something better.
About Mandy Scotney and Third Collective
Mandy Scotney is founder of Third Collective, a community of counsellors and coaches cultivating resilient minds, meaningful relationships and fulfilled lives. Mandy has many years leadership and commercial experience, and is qualified with a Masters of Counselling and Psychotherapy. Until the COVID-19 crisis is over, Third Collective is offering a “pay what you can” service, so it’s help that’s accessible, affordable and available when you need it most.
Thank you Mandy for your vulnerability, honesty and wise advice. Thank you for caring for those who need help but can’t afford it. Keep up the good work! If you want to thank Mandy too, please forward this article to a friend that would enjoy it or may be interested in chatting with Mandy or one of the experienced team members at Third Collective.