Missed milestones to broken friendships — how to deal with loss caused by Covid

WHETHER it’s missed family milestones or broken friendships, we’ve all experienced loss in some form this past year.

Here’s how to deal with it.

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This month marks one year since life as we knew it was put on hold, thanks to the global pandemic. In that time, we’ve adapted to working from home, been separated from loved ones and had to cancel holidays, weddings and our kids’ birthday parties, while hundreds of thousands of families have mourned a loved one who has died from Covid.

But there is light at the end of the tunnel, with the UK’s highly successful vaccine programme hopefully bringing an end to lockdown over the coming months. 

No one will have emerged from the pandemic unscathed – whether you live alone, with flatmates or your family, one thing is evident, collectively we have struggled. And the long-term damage caused by almost 12 months in lockdown could be huge. 

“Bereavement doesn’t just relate to the death of someone,” explains This Morning psychologist Emma Kenny. “It’s a feeling of loss for something that hasn’t happened – a mourning for things we haven’t experienced.” 

But it’s not just our mental and emotional wellbeing that is affected – grief has physical symptoms, too. “Neurochemicals and hormones flood our brain and that can result in sleeplessness, anxiety, fatigue and loss of appetite,” explains Emma. 

Here, Emma shares her tips to help you lessen the long-term impact of the grief you are feeling, whatever the Covid pandemic has taken from you.

Lost Friendships

Take even the strongest of friendships, throw a global pandemic  in the mix and it’s bound to take its toll. “Friendships have been strained because of differences of opinion on how the government has handled Covid crisis, or disagreements over how rigidly people should stick to lockdown rules,” Emma says.

“And other relationships will have faded simply through not seeing each other as much and people not wanting to communicate on Zoom etc. When social context is removed from a friendship, unless the foundations are strong, it can struggle to survive.” 

If you’re not sure you’re ready for a friendship to be over, Emma suggests asking yourself what you’re missing most. “Ascertain why it has fallen away and what value it brought you, and if you don’t want to lose it, reach out and explain how you are feeling.” 

If you are ready to move on, Emma says: “Focus on the fact you had a good friendship while it lasted, rather than how it ended. Look at who you are now, rather than who you were in that friendship. Finally, let go. This may take time, but letting go of how a friendship ended will free you up for new experiences.” 

Missed Opportunities

We will never know what 2020 had in store, pre-Covid. All that is certain is most of us have been struck by GOMO in the last year – that’s grief of missing out. At the first hint of lockdown we stayed at home and focused on “the end”: that point where life would get back to normal again. Yet almost a year later and we’re still waiting.

“Anthropologically speaking, we’re creatures that are designed to progress and we all experience micro-evolving, be it a promotion at work or our quickest-ever 5km run,” Emma says. “But a lot of us have spent the last 12 months in one place, literally and metaphorically.”

That loss, she says, has been made worse by the fact we feel a sense of guilt, too. Let’s face it, not getting to go on holiday does pale into insignificance at the sheer number of lives lost. But that doesn’t mean your sense of loss isn’t justified.

“Being upset about missing out on things is a natural reaction, so allow yourself a grieving period. Then try to think about things differently – you may be grieving opportunities that didn’t happen, but you could reframe them into opportunities that are yet to happen. Finally, remind yourself this is temporary and it will come to an end.”

Forgotten ‘Firsts’

From kid’s birthday parties to graduations and baby showers, the list of cancelled or postponed life events is depressingly long. “There have been so many let-downs in the last 12 months, but there are ways to cope with them,” Emma says. “Telling yourself ‘at least we’re together’ or ‘at least my daughter is too young to remember her first birthday’ or ‘at least you graduated’ is not helpful. ‘At least’ as a phrase is never a sympathetic one.” 

Instead, acknowledge what should have been. Discuss the bits you miss most and what you would have been doing at different times if the pandemic hadn’t happened. Emma says: “Then make a bulletproof plan for an alternative.

Some couples have cancelled three weddings in 2020 and 2021, but instead of rebooking it now, ask yourself if you want a wedding or a marriage. If it’s a marriage, get to the registry office! If it was your child’s first birthday that went almost unmarked, think about throwing a picnic for their second birthday instead.”

Family Ties

From grandparents separated from their grandkids, to young people living away from home who missed out on a family Christmas, it’s been tough for all our nearest and dearest. With the end of lockdown hopefully now in sight, we can at least start to plan to see each other again. When coping with the grief of time lost with your family there are some things you can do, such as planning a staycation all together later this year or even next.

“While it’s perfectly normal to feel grief at not being able to hug the people you love most, get out photos and immerse yourself in lovely memories – you could even finally organise them into frames or photobooks. Reminiscing can be good for us, as it can relieve stress and decrease feelings of loneliness. So whether you do it together, over FaceTime or on your own, take a trip down memory lane.”

Losing A Loved One

The grief of someone close to you passing away during the pandemic will have vast and wide-reaching emotional and psychological impacts, Emma warns. “Not being able to say goodbye to a loved one in hospital or being able to have a funeral like you might have wanted can have far-reaching implications.

"It has the potential to turn into conditions such as PTSD or depression if it’s not handled in the right way. It’s vital to remember it is not your fault. Crying has been physiologically shown to help reduce the body’s stress levels, so if you feel like you can’t stop, don’t try to,” she says. “There’s no way to undo what has happened, but ask yourself what they’d want you to feel.

"Grief is a journey so expect bad days – but equally expect good days, too, and don’t dismiss them. You can self-refer for talking therapies on the NHS, or charities such as Sue Ryder can offer support during bereavement.

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