• The Covid pandemic and lockdows have seen us stripped of our usual ways of being

  • Lianna Champ explores grief in the context of living losses, those less tangible and harder to describe moments of grieving

  • If you need support at this time, reach out to a counsellor or therapist here

In the midst of lockdown, my perception of freedom has completely changed. Before, I would have said having enough money to do what I want, having fabulous holidays, travelling. Now I know that for me, freedom is seeing my family, shopping with a friend, sitting round a dinner table sharing laughter and good conversation, being able to voice my opinion without fear. Everyday things. These are the things I am mourning – the things I did each day without even thinking about them.

We are all in mourning for those familiar things we did that were like second nature to us. Our familiar thoughts, routines and spontaneous meetings and conversations with others.

When someone we love dies, we have a focus for our grief. We have a relationship with it because we can name it. During this pandemic our grief can feel more isolating because we can’t give a name to how it makes us feel, but grief is grief whatever the cause and mourning the loss of the way of life we took for granted before lockdown causes us to grieve.

How do we define grief?

Grief is the normal and natural reaction to the loss of someone we love or something we value. That definition tells us that it isn’t just the loss of someone who has died but the loss or change of familiar patterns of behaviour.

Let’s look at the different kinds of losses we experience 

We talk about tangible loss which is loss following the death of someone we love or something we value (for example, our job). We describe this kind of loss as tangible because we can identify that person or thing. But when we have a reaction to something like a pandemic, our grief encompasses lots of things that we can’t put a specific name to but we still experience the feeling of grief. We describe these losses as intangible or ambiguous – loss of freedom, loss of security, fear of the unknown, uncertain future, loss of dreams and so on.

Because the pandemic and its effects are things that we can't control, feelings can be thrown up that we wouldn’t normally experience and emotions can surface that we may have been keeping buried, sometimes for many years. 

Losing our autonomy

Also, we don’t always like being told what to do. Now, due to the lockdown, everything that we have done instinctively, now needs the greatest of thought. It is as if we are having to rewire our inner circuit board without an instruction manual. This feeling of loss of control is something we may not have experienced in adulthood before. The confusion, unfairness and restrictions forced upon us can make us afraid and sad and this can manifest indifferent ways.

What you can’t control vs what you can control

Take a pen and paper and write down headings for this. I will give you some examples. I want you to add the list and you will soon see how the things you can control far outweigh the things you can’t. Once you begin writing, it becomes easier to open up. Even just identifying what is it you are feeling or what you are grieving for can really help to reduce the weight of your grief. It’s OK to have a wobble. Times like these are really scary and accepting the things we can’t control can really make a massive difference to how well we cope.

The beautiful Serenity Prayer says, “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference."

Questioning opens us up and gives us permission to talk about our feelings. It also helps us to recognise negative patterns of thinking and can bring an awareness of how previous reactions to loss can colour our reaction to the what we are experiencing during this time of pandemic.

Accept what is happening

Accepting that we cannot control everything in life can help reduce anxiety about our future and we can learn to experience life in the present moment. There is still much happiness to be experienced even though our normal life has been restricted. 

Let it be OK to be sad for the things we miss and let this reconnect you to the things that really matter. This is where we will find our strength.

Lianna Champ has over 40 years’ experience in grief and trauma counselling and is author of practical guide, How to Grieve Like A Champ

Further reading

What is anticipatory or imagined grief?

The Covid-19 pandemic: a crash course in accepting uncertainty

Grief in the time of coronavirus: coping with loss in lockdown

Covid and lockdown: a psychoanalytic perspective

Why am I still crying? Identifying and resolving complicated grief