I have become something of an expert in grief, this past eleven months. Covid-19 snatched my life partner of 37 years from me on April 18th. My life as I knew it came to a brutal and traumatised halt. No chance to say goodbye. I know I am not alone, although it’s hard not to feel it. Over 126,000 people have died as a result of Covid-19 in the UK alone. It’s calculated that on average nine close relatives or friends are seriously affected by each of these deaths, and that means over one million people struggling with loss and grief.
I stopped work altogether for three months – thank heavens for a compassionate employer and colleagues who stepped up to keep Share going during a period that was difficult enough without the CEO being out of action. I put Beanstalk coaching on ice. Luckily all of my one-to-one clients had finished before the pandemic struck. I’m only now dipping my toes in the water and venturing back into coaching and facilitating. The inestimable Association for Coaching has recently run a timely trio of sessions on coaching around bereavement in the pandemic, and it was an excellent and thought-provoking course which I know will resource me going forward.
I’m managing my time and energy very carefully, because everything has changed. When Chris died, part of me died too. My identity was shattered, my relationship to the world radically altered, no longer one of a couple, two people who created and problem-solved and nurtured and challenged, loved and laughed, stronger and happier by being together. The loss of the one person who’d loved me unconditionally for all those years is devastating. Most of us facing such a radical change, such an uprooting, find our confidence rocked, questioning so much that we took for granted before. Who we are in the world, how we relate to everyone and everything is fundamentally altered. It’s the most painful learning programme you can imagine, but learning and wisdom are there to be had.
I want to share some of my learning through this painful period so that I, and you, my readers, can be of service to others. It’s part of my quest to find meaning in my story. If you’re an employer, or a manager, or a team leader, please read on. If you work with people, as a colleague or a coach or therapist, please read on. If you’re a friend of someone who’s bereaved, please read on. If you’re just curious, welcome.
- We all know about the Kubler Ross five stages of grief, right? Well, I think they need to be reframed as five of the elements of grief – because it’s not a linear process, and I think there may be more than five. David Kessler has added a sixth, finding meaning. It’s not like you start in denial and progress through anger etc to acceptance – it really doesn’t work like that, however much people would like you to have “got over it” and “moved on”. Just when you think you’re making sense of your life and accepting what happened, something triggers you and you’re right back to thinking, this can’t be happening: any minute now she’s going to walk through that door; and you’re so effing angry, and reliving that trauma has knocked the wind out of you….
- The Dual Process model is more realistic and I relate strongly to it. Inside I was, and am, consumed with thoughts and feelings about losing Chris and the internal crisis that her death has caused. You could say I’m a bit obsessive about memorialising her. I talk to her all the time, and there’s not been a day since she died when I haven’t broken down and wept. And yet I’m also able to keep myself clean and fed, the cats looked after, the house orderly, the elderly mother cared for, and work under control. Impressive, huh? But exhausting. Utterly exhausting. So please bear that in mind if you’re working with or close to someone who’s grieving. They will be exhausted. So cut them a little slack if they don’t keep as many balls in the air as they would do normally.
- The person who’s beside themselves with grief is very unlikely to pick up the phone to tell you about how awful they feel, because they feel too awful, too vulnerable to lay that on anyone else. And in terms of work, they’ll be petrified of not being good enough, of no longer being who they were before the loss; and that vulnerability is terrifying, and as we know from neuroscience, fear dampens creativity and clear thinking. So treat your person with kindness and compassion, offer them reassurance and guidance where you can. The people to whom I will always be endlessly grateful are those who regularly checked in. Who phoned or texted every day in the early weeks, and then every week. The old friends who Face Timed. The work colleagues who brought food. The acquaintances who are now friends who said, let’s go for a walk, and did so every week. The friends who kept on calling and checking in after the first three months, six months, nine months.
- If you’re relating to this and have lost a dear one, then the best resource I’ve found is Megan Devine’s “It’s Ok That You’re Not Ok” so get yourself a copy and sign up for her Facebook page. Buy the book for friends or colleagues who are suffering. Some online groups (we have no other options in these locked down times) are helpful, but I’ve found that attendance is sporadic and some are better facilitated than others. One to one therapy or counselling can provide an anchor and a fixed point in your week where you can just be you and tell it how it is to someone who isn’t going to judge you and you’re paying (or someone’s paying) to listen
- The greatest solace I have found is through yoga and meditation, and specifically through the teachings and meditations of Jack Kornfield and Tara Brach. Both have many resources free to access online, and I don’t know where I’d be without them.
This is a painful journey, and I’ll be writing more about what I’ve discovered and sharing what may be helpful. Finally, welcome to my new website, and thank you to Miranda Waugh and Ask Auk for the lovely design. For my next blog, I’ll explore the links between the work around vulnerability and shame of Brene Brown, and the mindfulness work on the same issues of Tara Brach. Take care, go well, and thank you for staying with me as far as this.