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Why am I grieving old losses more during the pandemic?

Previously I’ve written about covid-19 (here and here) and how constant fear and lack of perspective is affecting people this year, and that a lot of this has to do with your own relationship to the idea of death, specifically your death and the deaths of those around you. But there is another element of death related to grief that might be at play for you here.

You might be finding that this year is bringing up your own ‘old’ issues, including (or especially) grief over deaths from your past.

It’s pretty simple why.

Think about it like this. You break your arm. It’s incredibly painful. You have no idea how to heal it. Indeed, pretty much everyone around you tells you it’s not possible to heal, and you’ll simply have to learn to live with the break and cope with the pain over time. And, if you’re like most people, this is bloody difficult. Every time you use the arm, try to lift something with it, or shake someones hand, it hurts. Every single time someone touches it, it hurts. So you do what most do, dealing with an eternally broken arm, and you tuck it away where it won’t be used or touched or hurt. You tuck it behind your back, let’s say. And you stop using it. It’s unfortunate, as it’s great to have two working arms, but you’re out of luck I’m afraid. So you get used to living with keeping one arm out of the way, tucked away ‘safe’, where you and others can’t hurt it. And sometimes you even forget that the arm is broken, because you become so used to avoiding it.

But of course this can’t last.

Now and again you, or someone else, will accidentally bump your arm. And because the arm is still broken, even though you’ve done your best to forget about it and it may have been a long time now, pain will shoot straight up it and it will hurt all over again. Anytime it gets pushed or touched it is going to cause you pain. Until you do something about it. Now imagine you find yourself in an elevator (let’s call this elevator ‘2020’) and it’s full. You can’t get out, there are a bunch of other people in the elevator, and you keep getting pushed and tousled and holy crap is your arm hurting. And then the elevator jams and everybody starts panicking and the lift fills up with fear and everybody starts moving around a lot. Now your arm is getting bumped and knocked and grabbed…and it’s agonising. So not only are you trying to figure out how to sort yourself out and deal with the stress of being in this packed, stuck elevator….but you’re also dealing with the fact that your broken arm, that you thought kinda wasn’t a problem anymore, well it’s woken up…and the sucker is hurting bigtime!

This is what happens with your grief. I’ve been fortunate to meet many people who have healed their grief completely – some of these are the people I have been honoured to help heal myself. But I am yet to stumble across the person who healed their grief totally and completely with just the passage of time and maybe some counselling.

The broken arm is your grief. The wound is still there, just hidden away. Not gone….not even really dormant. Just unlooked at, ignored, buried down deep. And the minute something triggers it….well you feel it all over again. Because it was always still there.

This is why I wrote ‘old’ issues. Because they may be in the past, but they are very unlikely old. Unless you’ve healed them, then they are very much present, and the second something reminds you of them…ouch. And yes, I know – ouch is quite the understatement.

Now, just like your arm in the busy elevator, this year, covid-19, the so-called pandemic, all the lockdowns, the whole merry 2020 mess, can be very much triggering your grief.

We are surrounded by talk of death, numbers of death, threats of death if we aren’t careful enough, death, death, death, death, death. Joe and Jenny Public are being exposed to more death talk and death reminders than they likely ever have been in their life. And if they happen to have any triggers related to death (like their own grief over past deaths) then they are quite likely to feel it.

If you still have grief, then it’s no surprise that it will be rearing its head this year. It may be buried very deep, but it’s still there.

So that’s the first reason your ‘old’ grief might be being triggered this year.

And secondly, this year has been for many a huge source of stress and fear. Some from stress and fear of the virus itself. For some it’s the stress and fear caused by lockdowns (like business/job loss, and isolation – a situation so much more stressful than can be easily stated). For some it’s the stress over government actions and what the future may hold. Or it could be all of the above. Stressful and traumatic times can shake hidden issues up to the surface. Any major stress or pressure can turn cracks into canyons. Just like in an earthquake where the couple of existing cracks in the wall become foot-wide spaces. Whatever you’re carrying around and perhaps successfully hiding from yourself (until now) is being shaken up to the surface. I often caution freshly grieving people with blaming the death they’ve been through for all of their problems and all of their troubles. What commonly happens is that, yes, they are suffering a lot around this death. But also that everything gets shaken up, the barriers are stripped off, and stuff that you might have been coping with is suddenly shown up for the problem it truly is – the shitty relationship you were coping with becomes unbearable, the job you dislike but put up with to pay the bills becomes pointless and a waste of your life, the depression and anxiety you thought you had a lid on bubble up and you are faced with your own self-worth issues.

So it can also be very simply that you’ve been put under stress, and the things that you may have been managing to keep at bay on an ordinary day, find their way out and you just can’t cope with them in the same way. For this reason you may find it’s not just grief that is coming up. It could be other hidden or buried issues as well. Or other things that you maybe didn’t even think were too big a problem.

So while I’ve listed these as the two reasons why old grief is coming up, they are really the two vehicles for bringing it up. The reason ultimately is because it still exists, because you still have it. That’s why it’s coming up.

So, now it may make more sense why you’re struggling wth what you thought was old grief this year.

But what on earth to do about it?

Well the first thing is to recognise that this is a good thing. I’m serious. I know it doesn’t feel good – that’s very often the case. But whatever has found its way to the surface – like grief – is no more or less than what was already within you. This is what you have been walking around with and carrying through life. And it’s a lot heavier than you may realise.

I firmly believe we aren’t meant to pick up each piece of sorrow in our lives and carry it with us, arriving in our grave with suitcases and suitcases full of trauma and pain. Just because a particular piece of trauma was hanging in a bag from your back that you had forgotten you were wearing, it is still weighing you down whether you’re thinking about it or not. We are meant to travel through and then out of our experiences. This is how we grow. And this is also how we discover much of the beauty of life.

So instead of seeing this as a year that made you suffer old pain, see this as the year that gave you the opportunity to do something about old pain that you don’t need to be carrying, whatever it is. This is an invitation to move through something painful to a more meaningful, freeing, loving place. To move from your past, through you present, to your future. Whether this is grief, depression, or any current or old wound. You want to know what you’re carrying (or at least I want you to know!) so you are in a position to do something positive about it.

You may wish, understandably, that you could just bury it again. But to bury the grief very deep you usually have to bury your thoughts, feelings and memories of (and sometimes your love for) this person as well, so it’s really not an ideal scenario.

The first thing to do here is to face what you’re feeling. Just like I recommended in my covid -themed blogs where the antidote to being terrified by death was to spend some time with it. Here, this is certainly not the only step, but it is the first and most important. Be willing to let the grief up and feel a bit of it. Don’t give in to the temptation to push it down or find a way to block it out if you can. You don’t need to be stuck with grief and grief doesn’t need to be stuck with you. I would encourage you to do this through writing/journalling. This is one of the easiest/gentlest ways to explore. It doesn’t have to be hard and overwhelming. Just the simple process of 5 minutes every other day to write down a little of what you’re feeling. You may actually find it a bit of a relief. After all it’s just been you hiding from…you. And it takes a lot of energy to bottle all that up, even if you’ve been doing it unconsciously.

There are other things to do, but for right now this is the first place to be. It takes a little courage and some gentleness and kindness for yourself, but this is the first step on the path out of your pain.

This year has just opened the path up to you. Be willing to take the first step.