Loss and grief in the absence of ritual: a Covid-19 reflection

By Ruth Limkin

Most of us are struggling with something at the moment. This strange moment in time. This shared experience, shared apart.

Some of us may lose loved ones to this cruel virus. In the cruellest of twists, the chance to mourn them in the way we know eludes us, precisely because of the means of their death. Just ten people at a funeral. This shared experience of grief, having to be shared apart.

The loss of life, which to date has been mercifully limited in Australia compared to so much of the rest of the world, is not the only loss we are experiencing.

There is loss being felt by so many. Loss of businesses, whether for a short time or for all time. The loss of income, the loss of colleagues greeting each other as they arrive at the office each day. The loss of belonging.

For some, work continues, but from home. Here too we feel the pain of loss. The loss of incidental conversation. Of smiling as we walk past someone we know on our way to a meeting. The spontaneous moments that make a day more interesting.

There is loss of the rhythms of life we knew. The sport we played or watched. The shared moments of triumph or defeat. The bigger things we were a part of.

Churches were closed on the highpoint of the Christian calendar. Resurrection Sunday, and silence reigned in buildings where celebration usually rings out.

While this season may indeed provide a time to recalibrate, it’s been a brutal forced recalibration. No gentle awakening that life was too hurried or too marginless. This difference of living was not borne of a desire to make positive and proactive changes. No invitation or choice. Just emergency declarations, restrictions, fines and diligent data modelling.

In this time of confinement, I am one of the lucky ones. The home in which I isolate is safe. It has a backyard which I can walk out to see grass. I live in the suburbs, so our supermarkets returned to normal supplies more quickly than those which are situated in more densely populated areas. Still, the absence or limits on pasta, rice and eggs remind us with sadness of the times in which we live.

The loss is broad. It has touched nearly every part of what we do and how we spend our time. Airlines have planes sitting idle. Travel agents can’t book the holidays that we can’t take. Retailers can’t sell the clothes we don’t need for the events we can’t attend.

I have in my diary appointments that I can’t fulfil. I thought yesterday of the lady who runs a nail salon near me. I had been due to see her a few days ago. She’s a single mother, supporting two daughters. She works hard to provide for them. Or did, until nail salons had to close.

Loss is all around us. And with loss, comes grief. They are inescapably intertwined.

Grief, however, usually comes accompanied with ritual and it is this ritual which helps us recognise it and process it.

When we have experienced loss and grief, there is usually a gathering. We gather to remember, to laugh, to cry, to reminisce, to comfort and to make meaning. We are ultimately presence oriented. In loss, we gather. Until now.

At this time in history, the very reason for our grief has prevented the usual rituals which allow us to process it.

Now, we distance. We isolate. Apart from each other. Apart from ritual. The loss I see around me makes me ache. The ache is made stronger for the fact that this loss is one I cannot wrap my arms around. The desire to be present in order to provide comfort is a desire unfulfilled, for we must all stand apart. The isolation amplifies the loss. It almost obscures the grief.

Yes, we are all being brave. We are all finding things to be grateful for each day. We are responding to reorganise our life through screens and social distancing. We are and will be resilient. But we can also grieve.

Grief is dislocating and overwhelming, but it is not all powerful. It is okay to acknowledge the grief. It is essential we recognise it. For as we allow ourselves to name what we are feeling, we will be more able to process it. As we process, we will move through the different stages. This is the path to recovery.

Feeling grief is important, precisely because the very presence of our pain also points to our hope. It is the living who feel. This pain reminds us that we are alive. And where there is life, there is hope.

We will emerge. This virus will, eventually, weaken its grip on our countries. And the pain we feel right now helps us remember precisely what it is we will reclaim.

Gathering. Presence. The ritual of connection.

These are the things that make our days beautiful. And they will fill them again.




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