Transitioning into 2021, I’m thoughtful about loss. In a Christmas letter to friends, I wrote that the very fabric of my life was dismantled in 2020. I know I’m not alone in this and share the following reflections in case they’re relevant to others.
Fabric offers a rich metaphor. The structure of (traditional) cloth is weft and warp – a pattern of yarns woven in and out of threads held in tension. The weft characterises the material while the warp is largely invisible. So it is with our lives – and to grasp what has been lost in this pandemic, we might need to look beyond the obvious.
This theme came into focus during November, when I reached a low point of fatigue and dejection. Whilst largely well-suited to solitude and used to motivating myself to make use of each day, the unending monotony of a restricted life finally ground me down. The dip followed a few weeks of ranting – there’s no other word for it! In noticing how raging subsided into despondence, I realised I was in a process of grieving.
I’m fairly familiar with grief, from both personal experience and a stint as a volunteer trainer and counsellor with a bereavement charity many years ago. In my coaching and supervision work, I often use the transition curve to support clients to explore the impact of loss and change. However, in this situation it was Kubler-Ross’s DABDA framework that helped me understand what might be playing out. This approach describes stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. While it has its critics, it offered a narrative for my experience.
In retrospect, my response to the initial lockdown was denial. While I perceived, cognitively, that things couldn’t be the same after Covid-19, my embodied experience was of being in limbo. I was waiting for a return to a semblance of ‘ordinary’ – the truth of pandemic hadn’t ‘hit me’ viscerally.
As that lockdown eased, with a plethora of varying rules that reflected the personalities in power in different parts of the UK, reality began to kick in. While trying to appreciate the challenges facing those who shouldered the burden of tackling the virus, I became increasingly exercised by a mismatch between words and actions. Assertions about embracing a ‘new normal’ were coupled with initiatives encouraging a return to ‘old normal’ – with masks. I railed against both a lack of coherence and an apparent apathy towards capitalising on the genuine positive changes that arose in lockdown.
In parallel, I began to try to envisage a new normal for my work – I had a sense of possibilities and was quite inspired for a time. However, I’ve taken little action. I now see these efforts as a form of ‘bargaining’ – striving to imagine a better future as a way of avoiding the true depth and reach of what was gone. Finally, depression crept in, despite being relatively privileged in this shared adversity and having practices such as meditation to draw on.
In recognising my pattern of experience as grief, I saw that I haven’t fully accepted what has been lost – because it’s actually quite complex. I’ve marked the passing of activities that are now unavailable to me, and found ways to replace those that matter. But the really important absences are intangible: catching someone’s eye in a conversation; the briefest touch that reassures and supports; a thought-provoking exchange from a chance encounter in a street or corridor; a ripple of infectious laughter around a room.
It is these moments and connections that are the structural ‘warp’ threads around which a life is woven, not the activities that give rise to them. Over time, their loss erodes our very humanness, leaving us bereft.
In seeking acceptance, I recalled the picture of Assynt that accompanies this piece. My reading of this landscape is that the sea carved a great cave under the original cliff. Eventually, the roof collapsed. Gradually, a new landscape settled, offering sheltered grazing and access to the sea.
And so, as I witness the upheavals in my personal landscape and that of society, I wonder what will emerge. While the reshaping feels calamitous now, what new potentials will be created?
- How has your personal landscape been materially altered during the pandemic?
- What has been created? What has been lost? How might you embrace both?