Covid-19 has it made it incredibly more challenging to support those struggling with loss. Without good support it’s easier to continue living in worlds we fill with distractions. The usual escape routes have been blocked. Even those courageous enough to dream up a new life are uncertain of how to move forward. So how do we make sense of loss during a pandemic? And how do we move forward?
When grief moves into our heads and hearts, we often work hard to stay busy and keep ourselves distracted from feeling a pain that can be overwhelming and disorienting. In a world of Netflix, Amazon, binge eating and sweatpants one could argue that culturally we have mastered the art of distraction. I beg to differ. Mastering implies we are in control and when we fill our days with distractions, we are not in control. We are afraid. We are working hard to re-focus our attention away from the difficult feelings and ideas that are stirring within us. We are also creating short term comfort, security and a reprieve from our struggles. Sound familiar?
Distraction and I are on well acquainted. As such I can tell you from experience that the most readily accessible forms of distraction, though necessary in the early days, can also hinder our ability to heal and move forward. We do not want to create a habit of distracted living. It is not a good long-term strategy for healthy living.
Don’t get me wrong. Distraction plays a valuable role in healing after loss. I’ve certainly indulged in many forms of distraction over the past year and a half of this pandemic, and I most certainly did so in the days following the death of my husband. This is one of the reasons I recognize it for what it is. It is the stop gap measure that allows us to catch our breath and hopefully give us enough head space to start thinking about what we need to do move from surviving to once again thriving.
Coming to the realization that distractions do little to help move us forward is something we all encounter when we begin to re-surface. Pre-pandemic this was the point in time when the bereaved began to dream of other ways to spend their time and started planning their escape, from land of distraction: a land where loss rules our conscious mind.
Unfortunately, the pandemic and government restrictions on gatherings created a situation that left the grieving even more isolated than usual. In addition, the situation disconnected them from many who otherwise would have helped them to re-engage and move forward. Individuals and organizations that support those who have experienced loss to move from a place of distraction (alone) to where they are willing to try their hand at escaping (in community).
When we feel the need or pull to move ourselves back into some form of more engaged living, we move from distraction to escape. Escape is intentional and requires some degree of planning. It does not provide the quick fixes that distracting does. Instead, it allows for new experiences to lay the foundation of what is to come next. Escaping gifts us time to explore new ways of being in the world, new possibilities. It also gives us permission to rest and recover.
Recovery time is essential to healing. When we commit longer periods of time to the exercise of escaping, we also provide more time to nurture ourselves and re-establish good self-care practices. There are many ways to escape. A few of my favourites are listed below.
- Pre-pandemic travel was my favourite form of escape. In the beginning my escapes focused on nothing but rest and recovery. After caring for others for so long I needed others to care for me. Eventually I graduated to adventure trips. Adventure trips challenge and remind us of how capable we can be. They nurture us in a different way yet, still create the opportunities we need for others to support us. Hiking in Sedona and snaking my way along the switchbacks of Oak Creek Canyon on my drive to the Grand Canyon ranks among one of my better escapes. The family I met over pie on Route 66 that explored a different part of the country every year on their Harleys and the woman I met in the pool who, at 60, moved states to live in Sedona because she ‘knew she had to live there’ (its beauty called to her) both reacquainted me with the idea that there are many ways to live the good life. They and the many others I met on my escapes continue to remind me that life requires effort and that it is worth it.
- During the pandemic rather than exploring new places I explored new ideas and possible interests (virtually of course). Virtual escapes include anything that piques your interest. It can be an on-line course in painting, photography, cooking, deep learning, woodworking, or car restoration. The pandemic and my interest in staying as mentally, physically, and spiritually healthy as possible gave me the opportunity to learn more about things I would otherwise not have had time to explore. Yale’s The Science of Well Being (free) and Mindvalley’s Energy Medicine with Donna Eden (not free) enabled me to escape to a healthier place when Toronto went into lockdown for the first time.
- When I signed up for Love Your Brain, an online yoga class for those recovering from traumatic brain injuries, I found myself not only is classes with people I would otherwise have never met but surrounded by others whose experiences reminded me that everyone struggles. In addition to stretching my body I was frequently inspired by the stories of others, their challenges, their perseverance, and their successes.
- Event based on-line groups are another form of escape that nurtures us. I belong to a group that meets up to go to Broadway plays when theatres are open. When they’re closed, they book weekly online screenings followed by online social time. I especially enjoyed some of the London West End productions. Online events of this type have the added advantage of being a little less demanding in the commitment department. For those wishing to dip their toes back into the gentle flowing waters of life they may be a good place to start.
Many, but not all, of my escapes have become a part of my post-pandemic life. Some escapes/adventures were less than stellar. This too is part of the norm. I was sad to realize that I will likely never play the guitar. The on-line lessons were excellent, but my tender fingertips whined fiercer than the chords I attempted to strum. My eldest stepson laughed (but not unkindly) when I asked if there were softer strings I could buy. He is a gifted guitarist. Exploring new possibilities comes with the risk of having to let go of some dreams but the gains far outweigh the losses.
Covid-19 and the added burden of social isolation have blocked many established escape routes. But as this blog indicates, it has not blocked all of them. With a little creativity and courage, it is possible to move from needing to distract oneself to escaping (and trying out) new possible realities. Escaping takes courage and commitment, but it also helps all of us figure out how to again live lives that, though very different from our previous lives, fulfill us and bring us joy. Afterall it is through connecting with others that we become re-inspired.
It’s all a process. A process with many ups and downs, great strides, and setbacks. During my first go round with loss I was unaware that I first distracted and then escaped. Nor was I aware that my escapes helped me figure out what was important to me, and how I wanted to live my life. It was not until this Pandemic that I began to consciously identify when I was using distraction to avoid a painful situation. Having, in the past, used the power of escaping to give myself the space I needed to rest, explore, and dream I understood it takes courage to leave distraction behind and engage with the unknown. I also understood that, with practice, it is in distracting and escaping that we rebuild our capacity to be courageous. Like all processes this too can become a habit. Learning to live with the uncertainty takes courage. It is a skill and one worth honing.
Till next time, stay well,
Courses I enjoyed and recommend:
Love Your Brain (Yoga for Traumatic Brain Injuries)
Looking for previous Widow Wednesdays? Start here with Widow Wednesdays #1
Buy Heike’s book “Grief is…” here
To learn more about Heike (Author: “Grief is… thoughts on loss, struggle and new beginnings click here