Goodbye my love, goodbye

So much has changed since the beginning of 2020. The pandemic has disrupted our lives and relationships. We have been forced to separate ourselves from our friends to keep our family safe. Each day, we are reminded of loss. A loss of freedom and identity. A loss of purpose in life.

While the situation is difficult, most of us will get through it. But what happens when on top of this, we also lose someone dear to us? Since the risk of getting infected is high, we are unable to be with our loved ones during their final days in hospital. Every loss is important, yes, but the grieving process becomes much harder when we are not able to say goodbye.

Bereavement – A Lonely Time Beyond Measure

Each one of us reacts in a different way. The loss and pain hit us at various depth. We may become depressed or angry towards the person who has died. We may become anxious and fearful of our own mortality. Sometimes we think we are coping, but a sudden flutter and tumble in the stomach jolts us back in agony.  

When we mourn in isolation, extra layers of suffering are added. We lose an opportunity for closure. It may take us a long time to grasp what has happened and the grief may linger for years. If we cannot see the body, our mind can play tricks and subconsciously we hope that the person may still be alive somewhere.

In normal circumstances, we would be surrounded by relatives and friends supporting us through our griefs. From the wake to many days afterwards, we would not be alone. The person we are mourning may be gone but others are still here, real, solid. We forget to wallow in self-pity and allow ourselves to laugh without feeling guilty.

Be it Willingly or Unwillingly

Living in a pandemic, social isolation means no gatherings, no traditional funerals. We are plunged into a sea of fear and loneliness. Desperate to share our grief with others, for we long for their support, however at times we notice they are fearful of what to say or how to respond to our loss. They misunderstand our situation. Embarrassment appears on their face and they avoid us altogether. Should the bereaved be isolated and deprived of receiving any comfort?

Sometimes our loss is overshadowed by what else is going on in the world, because the spotlight is on other things. When Prince Philip, The Duke of Edinburgh died, the whole country joined the Royal Family in mourning his loss. While the public was urged not to gather or leave tributes at royal residences, this request fell on deaf ears. Hundreds of mourners gathered outside Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle, as if unconcerned about the pandemic. They wanted to pay their respects. They wanted to show their national sadness.

I do not claim to know why, but I guess they wanted to experience a sense of common grief, a social connection. And yet, they cannot share a friend’s fear and pain. The pain that we feel cannot be transferred from one body to another, but the mind can sympathise.

“Death” is a difficult word that feels heavy on our tongue. It means final, closure. But unimaginable as it might be, before any normality returns, it is important to grieve what has been lost. Every loss is valid, and we should acknowledge each one of them. Life has changed and along with it, so have we. Being bereaved is such a lonely time but there is no time limit to saying goodbye.

Be Careful What You Wish For

At the end of last year, when COVID-19 vaccines were made available to the public, I swore I was not having any. I heard so many horrendous stories about the severe side effects and it scared me. I am one of those people who never volunteer to be first in the queue, and I was not going to change that. Better wait a few years until everything felt safe.

But when work invited me to register for the vaccine, I had a dilemma. I could refuse, but that would mean letting the team down. Reluctant to have a flu jab, for years I turned to natural medicine to fight off the symptoms. Could I do the same for COVID? I did not want to stand out as a sore thumb nor be the recipient of their disapproval.

Decisions, decisions . . .

I chose to support my team and went beyond that. Not only did I book a COVID vaccine but also my very first flu jab.  If I was going for one, I may as well go for the whole shebang. Was it a daredevil stunt or just stupidity to have both jabs barely spaced out? I considered I could tackle any challenge coming my way.

I went for the flu jab first, confident that all would be well as thousands before found it to be safe and effective. The result was a mild reaction consisting of a bruised arm and body ache, nothing that a painkiller would not cure.

Ten days later, it was time for the COVID vaccine. This was no simple flu jab. I listened to scaremongers talk about side effects and blood clots. Irrational thoughts spun a cycle inside my brain. I became afraid and worked myself up to a frenzy. I prepared for the inevitable by stocking up on groceries and doing all my chores and errands in advance, took a few days off work and cancelled meetings. Without thinking I was ready to feel miserable and relished to be a victim.

While I embarked on the fear route, a little voice of doubt kept nagging me. Like a persistent fly, I would try to swat it away, but it kept coming back more defiant than ever. I gave in and surrendered to the images that I created in my mind like a reel of old film unfolding in front of my eyes.

The Pfizer vaccine did not sting at all but the importance that I gave to the side effects propelled me into painful physical reality. I ended up creating what I believed. I got what I wanted. I woke up the next day, with a fever and a throbbing headache. My sore arm felt heavy. When I tried to walk, I felt weak and exhausted. I thought I was dying. Okay, maybe I am exaggerating, but my body felt like it was going through a storm. Ahh, I should be mindful of what I wish for.

I wanted to feel sorry for myself and plunge into a downward spiral. But if I were to have my second dose, I needed to stop my mind dictating how I should feel. I needed to be in control. The challenge was to change my thoughts and create a new belief, ditch any plans. I decided to veer from the path I needed to follow and embraced uncertainty.

Accept what it is, let go of what was, have faith in what will be.

I approached the second phase with acceptance. I let go of my ego and stopped giving importance to other people’s views. I had a choice, and it was up to me to act upon it. Instead of going safe, I went wild. I kicked healthy eating out of the window and indulged in rich food. If I was going to suffer, then it was better surrounded by chocolates and cupcakes. My anxiety vanished.

By not caring of what may happen, I let go of any resistance and turned my actions into positive thoughts and beliefs. I became comfortable with the knowledge that whatever the outcome, it would not last for ever. To my surprise I sailed through without any side effects. I was vaccinated and felt good. Mind over matter.

Shutting down the annoying voice that questioned my decisions was the key to stop focussing on the negative. Instead of resisting, I went with the flow. Lesson learnt.