Restrictions May Be Lifting, But Not Everyone Can Truly Go ‘Back To Normal’
More than a year after the UK entered its first coronavirus lockdown, England is finally easing restrictions for good.
Earlier this month, outdoor hospitality reopened, with millions flocking to beer gardens and restaurants to reconnect with friends and family members.
While a return to a ‘normal’ has begun, for many, coronavirus has changed their lives forever. Since the onset of the pandemic, there have been more than 127,000 coronavirus-related deaths in the UK. For those who have lost loved ones, their grief will persist long after restrictions are eased.
Stacey Hart, a trauma and grief specialist at Grief Encounter estimates more than 750,000 people will have been deeply impacted by grief following the death of a loved one this past year.
‘That’s almost three quarters of a million people who are beginning a ‘new normal’ as society opens up. This will present emotional struggles for many who have either recently experienced bereavement, or those who have been living with grief throughout lockdown.
‘As society begins to return to ‘normal’, the bereaved may still feel like they are grieving in isolation, each set of circumstances different for every family. There is a huge amount of shock and trauma leftover from coronavirus-related deaths, the lack of being able to say goodbye and the sudden nature of many coronavirus deaths, which is difficult to process without support from your wider network,’ Hart explains.
Jane Woodward, executive director at At A Loss, says one of the main challenges people may be facing right now is a return to doing ‘normal things’ without the person who has died.
‘This means we haven’t been around the things they loved – their favourite restaurant or pub, or favourite place to walk – seeing places that remind us of them or in family gatherings. So while it might feel like normality is returning, in actual fact life is different now without them and we haven’t had to experience the reality of that,’ she says.
What this means for many, Woodward explains, is that their grief may have been put ‘on hold’ during the lockdown.
‘Don’t be surprised if feelings you thought you had dealt with re-emerge, perhaps more strongly,’ she says, adding that it’s okay to not feel okay or to feel joyless as the public gets back to ‘normal’.
‘It might feel as if the world has forgotten about all the terrible losses, forgotten that there are millions of bereaved people dealing with painful grief and that people have been lost in awful circumstances. You may feel cheated by the virus, guilty that you weren’t able to say goodbye properly, anger that your loved one couldn’t be saved or didn’t receive the treatment they needed.
‘If your loved one died of something other than coronavirus, you may feel angry that their death was regarded as somehow less important than a Covid death. You may have been feeling lonely and socially isolated and feel anxious or fearful about re-entering ‘normal’ society again as restrictions are relaxed,’ Woodward says.
Another difficult aspect of losing a loved one during the pandemic has been the restrictions around funerals, making the grieving process much more challenging than usual.
‘You may not have been able to hold the funeral you wanted, and the uncertainty of making plans which might have to be cancelled can be difficult to cope with. You may find that you long to meet with friends and family when it is against current restrictions but also find it difficult to join in during those times when it is once again allowed,’ Andy Langford, Clinical Director at Cruse Bereavement Care says.
‘Those who couldn’t say goodbye the way they wanted may have been quietly grieving alone or with immediate family over the past few months, which means the return to ‘normal’ may be tough,’ Imogen Thomas, campaign manager at Dying Matters adds.
‘While grief is a natural response when someone dies, there is no right or wrong way to grieve. Everyone’s experience is unique and it’s totally normal to find it tough, especially in these circumstances,’ Thomas says.
As people start to socialise again and meet outdoors, social media feeds will also start to look quite different. This can be distressing to see posts of friends and family enjoying themselves when you’re in a stage of grief.
‘The key thing is to do what’s right for you; if social media feels helpful, go for it, but if you’re finding it tough, then it’s worth thinking about taking a break,’ Thomas says.
Hart says it’s important to not put too much emphasis on social media. ‘Try and remember we only see the highlights. In actual fact, their reality might be very different and they may be suffering in silence,’ she says.
‘The important thing is that in whatever way is right for you, find ways to express your grief, talk to your friends and family and let them know if you need them. Accept offers of support, if that’s what you feel you need or let them know you need space,’ Thomas adds.
All the support services and specialists we spoke to agreed on one thing, that for most people in stages of grief, talking about it helps. This can be extremely difficult. As Thomas points out, despite death being in the nation’s consciousness more than ever before, people still find it a hard subject to open up about.
‘And yet, we have also seen the UK show its compassionate side through this challenging period, and we do know from our research that even if people find it hard, they do want to help each other with grief and bereavement. We’re actually a really caring and compassionate country. So, we hope that the renewed opportunities for a quiet cup of tea or a gym class with a friend might just allow people to open up, in whatever way works for them, and continue to process their grief,’ she says.
If you have experienced a bereavement and would like to speak with someone in confidence contact Cruse Bereavement Care via their national helpline on 0808 808 1677. You can also contact Grief Encounter on their free, confidential helpline, grieftalk, on 0808 802 0111.
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