Adjusting to changed circumstances – the easing of lockdown plus life after bereavement

It looks as though here in the UK we are on a steady progression towards the country opening up. The pandemic is not over, but the restrictions that prevented us from visiting friends and family are gradually lifting.

Generally this is good news. It’s lovely to see friends and family again who we have sorely missed.

But for some, there is a hesitancy. I’ve heard people say things on these lines:

“I’ve survived this year. I’m grieving and the whole world is grieving. But when lockdown lifts, what’s it going to be like? Will everyone else be ‘going back to normal’? But what about me? My life is never going to be normal again. My loved one has died. I’m afraid I am going to feel even more alone in my grief now than I have in the past months.”

Perhaps you can relate to this.

The grief mask

Isolation and social distancing were difficult for many people. On the other hand, it might have been a relief to some not to have to put on a mask – not the hygiene kind that we wear to help prevent the spread of Covid-19 – but the mask that many bereaved people don when they leave the house.

That mask might be smiles and “thank you, yes I’m fine” responses to “how are you” – which isn’t usually a question that the person asking is expecting you to answer, at least not truthfully.

That mask might be an appearance of calmness when inside, your heart is utterly shattered.

That mask might be feigning an interest, when in fact you’re having a hard time concentrating on a conversation or you simply don’t care about the latest episode of whatever TV show or the latest match result. Your world has been turned upside down by the death of your loved one. A fictional storyline pales in comparison.

The lifting of lockdown means simply being more busy. More demands on your time. More people to see, more things to catch up on. Perhaps more ‘bereaved face’ masks to wear.

If you have become somewhat peaceful and comfortable in the past months, you may be worrying about how you’re going to adjust to these changes and the resumption of more social interaction.

Then again, you might relieved that you don’t have to spend so much time alone with your thoughts, which could have made your grief more intense and perhaps seem unbearable.

You might be very lonely, and welcome the opportunity to get out more, to mix and mingle.

Whether you welcome these changes or feel apprehensive about them, if you’re grieving the death of a loved one, this is another set of adjustments to make on top of what you’re already having to cope with.

Making adjustments

Making adjustments is an ongoing process. You never know what might arise.

In a Zoom group I led recently for bereaved parents, there was a discussion about how you respond to the question, “how many children do you have?” The aspects we talked about included:

  • Do you always mention your deceased child when you’re asked how many children you have?
  • How do you respond to more detailed questions? Are some people intrusive?
  • Does your answer differ, depending on whether it is someone you are likely to see again or not?
  • Do your responses differ, depending on your emotional state at that moment?
  • How do you handle people’s reactions, such as those who gush with sympathy or those who are stunned into silence and quickly move away?
  • How do you feel after these unexpected encounters?

Everyone’s comments were different and yet they were the similar, because the common thread was there is no ‘rulebook’. There are so many variables. All you can do is manage the conversation the best you can at the moment, and afterwards, walk away without any regrets. Perhaps next time you will respond differently, or perhaps the same. There are no rules, and no right or wrong way to respond.

A similar conversation might be had by anyone who has had a close family bereavement, such as parents or a spouse.

The newly bereaved often discover that even a casual conversation with a stranger on the bus or when walking the dog, with a new neighbour or a colleague, can involve so much… And this can be very tiring emotionally.

Eventually, though, for the most part, we do find our way. We discover our own means of navigating awkward conversations and so much else that has changed in our bereavement.

Navigating the changed territory

Your life now, lived without the presence of your loved one, is not what you have chosen. It’s not exactly how you wanted it to be. But it is the life you have. The reality is that time and circumstances have brought you to a different position, and the best you can do at the moment is try to adjust to those changes. This applies to the shifting dynamics of the pandemic, as well as to your life after the death of your loved one.

As humans, we are amazingly adaptable. It might never feel right waking up to an empty bed which you had shared for years with your loved one, but you’ll figure out a way through. Maybe you’ll turn on the radio so that the room isn’t so quiet. Maybe you’ll open the windows and listen to the birds. Maybe you’ll say “good morning” to your loved one, and accept the silence that is their only response.

I have no doubt that you have already found some ways to adapt your life to the absence of your loved one. You are adjusting.

And I have no doubt we will all eventually adapt to the changing circumstances of the evolving pandemic. We already have.

If you are feeling nervous at the moment, try to take things slowly. There is no hurry to give hugs or visit friends if you aren’t comfortable with this yet. When I write ‘yet’, I’m not only referring to the lifting of lockdown, but your life now following your bereavement. It’s going to take time to get used to your circumstances. Give yourself that time; be patient with yourself. You will find your way.

Fledgling blackbird prepares to leave the nest. It doesn’t look very happy about it, perhaps a bit apprehensive? Yet it will hop down soon, and before long, it will have adjusted to its new life.

READ MORE ABOUT GRIEF


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If you’d like to sit down to have a face to face conversation with other bereaved people who have lost partners, children, parents or other close family members, there is an opportunity to do this as our supported retreats. Find out more here

If you’re a bereaved parent looking for support, visit the website of The Compassionate Friends

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