Socially distanced grief in a pandemic world

Pic: Getty Images

Last year, the nation prepared for an initial three weeks of isolation. We all prepared not to see friends or family, whilst fights emerged over toilet rolls in our local supermarkets.

After a rough and difficult year for many from the prolonged isolation period, there is finally a slowly emerging light at the end of the tunnel. As welcoming as this light may be, the effect of a year in solitude seems to hang over our heads, and may well linger long into the future.

Whilst Covid-19 has impacted every aspect of our lives and affected every person in the UK, it has uniquely stung the grieving. Losing a loved one is difficult enough in itself, but this pandemic has taken away one of only a few things that can provide some much-needed comfort: friends and family.

When my grandad passed away in December last year, I was shocked.

Despite being in his nineties, my dad’s father had always been incredibly resilient and, other than his forgetfulness, he was fairly healthy and active. He had broken his wrist and had to spend time in the hospital, during which he contracted Covid-19.

At first, he seemed to be dealing with the virus quite well. A few days passed and he deteriorated, becoming more unwell, then he suddenly passed. The speed with which he deteriorated had left us unprepared to deal with the grief that was coming, and the unbearable sadness and frustration that he should not have died because of a broken wrist.

The real pain, however, was standing at his funeral with only a dozen other people in a church which should have been full. My uncle lives in America, so could not travel to his own father’s funeral. He instead joined a live stream at what would have been 3 a.m. to watch via zoom. I grieved for my grandad, but I also grieved for those who were absent for reasons beyond their control.

I never expected that just a few weeks later I would go through a similar grief, this time with my mum’s dad. Having lived with us for the past eight years, he had become a huge part of our everyday routines, even more so as we spent more time at home during the pandemic. He had been very ill for a while, but we never expected to lose him so soon after my other grandfather.

Once again, I found myself walking into a church picturing those who would have been there if they had any choice in the matter. I watched my cousin sit at a social distance and mourn alone, with no one from the same household to give her the hug I knew she needed. At both of these funerals, I was plagued by a sense of injustice.

It didn’t seem fair that the lives of two brilliant men were only permitted with such limited celebrations. It didn’t seem fair that I couldn’t comfort those attending alone. It didn’t seem fair that family were prevented from being present to celebrate the lives of those lost. It didn’t seem fair that the entire process of planning a funeral was plagued by social distancing considerations. It didn’t seem fair that our time to grieve was overshadowed by the events of the wider world.

Whilst my heart hurt with loss, it also hurt for those who had lost the opportunity to properly mourn that loss, and my grandfathers who both deserved so much more.

However, as 21 June looms closer every day, we can look forward to the physical contact and quality time with family and friends. We look forward to the times that we’ve missed for so long and that we so rightly deserve. We can start planning a proper memorial for those we have lost, and we can start moving forward with a newfound appreciation for family and friends.

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