Jolie's story: my experience of loss during COVID-19

This content mentions death or bereavement, which some people may find triggering.

We have all experienced so many emotions since the UK locked down on 23 March 2020. Fear, uncertainty, and the building of a cumulative sense of loss.

"Who would have believed that through a pandemic, we would lose the freedom to be together, to hug and kiss those we love?" asked my Mum. At the time of writing, I work as the Programmes Manager of Empowerment & Later Life at the Mental Health Foundation. Since lockdown began, our Standing Together Cymru project participants have been speaking on the phone every week. They discussed some of their experiences of loss in the past year:

Loss of choice

Many have commented on ordinarily being content in their own decision to be on their own in their own company, but to have that decision made for them – and to be forced to be alone and not see anyone for months - is different.

Loss of connection to the outside world

There are people who receive up to four phone calls from different family members every day but say, “once I’ve put that phone down, there is nothing.” This feeling of “nothing” behind the closed door of the flat.

Also, the importance of having a window to look out of – and to listen to the noise from the streets and the local environments. One woman commented on how silent it now sounded outside since the schools and pubs were closed again. ‘Silence’ and ‘nothingness’ seem to resonate with many participants in the project.

Loss of confidence

Numerous comments on “I have no confidence left” which has developed through a loss of social contact. This will not have been helped by the sense that the lives of older people are less valuable than others as they are nearer the end of their lives. People have spoken about how tangible this felt to them in the early months of lockdown, with people with Covid being discharged back to care homes.

The use of art to demonstrate our losses

In 2021, I was getting different virtual groups to draw what they miss, for people to see and talk about what they have lost. People have drawn the places they miss and family and friends in houses they have not seen for a year. All of us, over the last year, have lost our way of life.

We have also all been living with a greater fear of death, our own mortality, and the terror of people we love dying, yet we struggle to speak about death. Rituals about dying have, over the past century, become more removed, people die in hospitals, hospices and fewer at home. We are uncomfortable with the word death, “losing someone” and “passing away” can feel safer and less final.

A drawing of a park, drawn by Jolie

Over the last year, death has been present like no other. Loved ones have died, people have died caring for others, and people have died before their time.

In the UK, we seem poorly equipped to give expression to what we have lost. We were told a lot of people would die, but there has been no guidance about how to mourn collectively.

When Captain Sir Tom Moore died this February, we were instructed to clap to celebrate a long, good, and inspiring life to the very end. But where is the acknowledgement of the unimaginable sorrow for those people grieving the loss of 122,500 people (at the time of writing) who have died in the UK?

It was striking, listening to Joe Biden speak at the Lincoln Memorial before his presidential inauguration: 'To heal you must remember, it’s hard to remember, that’s how we heal, and it’s important to do that as a nation.' The UK must do the same.

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