A member of my extended family died this week. She had under-lying health issues. We’ve been told there might be an inquest because the coroner was unhappy with the care she received at the end of her life. That was affected by the pandemic and the lockdown measures in place. A doctor failed to respond to calls from family members asking for medical assistance because she seemed to be going downhill rapidly. Her carers failed to ensure she was eating her meals, simply leaving them beside her, out of reach. They were probably terrified. I feel for carers right now: poorly paid; working in difficult conditions at the best of times; carrying out that work now without the proper protective equipment; exposed to people quite likely to have coronavirus; at risk of exposing those same very vulnerable people. Understanding that doesn’t make it any easier for a family who know their loved one wasn’t looked after properly in the last days of her life. Everything about this death is more difficult in the circumstances we are in at the moment. Every single step we would normally take in the wake of a bereavement is made that much more difficult. That’s no one’s fault. It just is how it is. The same sorts of things are happening to other families all over the world. And after this is all over, we will all have to live with the aftermath.
I read a lot of advice about how to live right now, how to cope in lockdown, what we can be doing to help ourselves. The vast number of blogs, tweets and marketing emails about this are overwhelming at times. I’ve stopped reading them. I don’t find reading to many of them is particularly helpful to be honest. The funny thing is, for many people, especially those who are living in western societies and comfortably off, living right now is the easiest part of this. We hunker down in our homes, look after our families, try to do our work as best we can and make the best of the situation we find ourselves in. We live in this moment, just like we’re always being told to do, but we do this right now because there is nothing else we can do. The future feels unknowable. I say this knowing that for many others this is not the picture: they have lost their jobs and don’t qualify for government assistance; they have jobs that are considered essential and have to go out and face danger every single day; they have on-going physical or mental health issues which make this situation intolerable; or perhaps they are in lockdown with their abusers. Those issues and others like them can’t be ignored.
But for those who are generally coping pretty well with the situation despite the different pressures, I am starting to wonder what it’s going to be like when this is all over. How do we go back to our “real lives”? How do we cope with the things that have happened while we’ve been in lockdown? The bereavements; the strains on our relationships; the isolation we underwent if we were totally on our own; but also: the new connections; the slower pace of life. What if we have to go back to our real lives and it turns out we hate that? What if what we discovered, while we were forced to undergo this total change of life, was that the old way of being was what was making us unwell (physically and mentally)? What if this pandemic has fundamentally changed our own life? What do we do next?
I’m very experienced supporting people with bereavement, grief and loss and I wonder about all this in a curious and open-ended way. There are so many questions ahead of us to explore. And I know it’s too soon to begin. We are still in lockdown here in the UK and we don’t know when or how that will end. Now is the time to sit in this moment and do our best to survive it. Even enjoy it, if we can. The exploration of the questions will come later. And, for many people, different types of support will be needed then to help them cope and recover. Strangely, for me this feels like a time not just to survive but to take advantage of the slowing down, to rest and renew myself, so I am in a place to help afterwards when my own skills will be needed more than perhaps they are right now.