Niamh Mc Gee
We are all aware of the additional challenges Level 5 lockdown has posed, to our physical, emotional and mental health. Although most facilities and outlets are closed, and most social opportunities are completely eliminated from our lives, life still somehow carries on. The ebb and flow of life has not ceased as much of our routine has. A natural element of this process is death. Although Covid 19 has claimed over four thousand lives on the island of Ireland, deaths due to other illnesses, mental health issues, accidents and injuries have still continued. Grief during any period of our life, and in any situation, is extremely hard under normal circumstances. During Level 5, or any lockdown for that matter, it is even more challenging. This is particularly difficult for younger people, such as students, who perhaps have not experienced much grief in their adult life, and to deal with a death in lockdown for the first time, can be excruciating.
Personally, I lost one of my closest friends to terminal cancer in November 2020. Before I had to face grief itself, the shock of such news, and the inability to accept it, is what seriously posed a challenge in the midst of a lockdown. In such times, many people face an existential crisis, and pose questions on life, faith, belief and find it difficult to grapple with the idea that there is any form of hope on the horizon. I experienced this myself, and it was one of the most isolating periods of my life. At times I felt hopeless, or that I did not have much of a purpose or reason to live, when things like this could happen. I also started to view life as something with much more negatives than positives, and whether or not this continuous cycle of ups and downs was something I could handle.
Company is extremely important in such times, whether that be friends, family, a partner, or a colleague, people need people when facing such life changing news. For me, this was the first time I majorly felt effected by lockdown. I had to face this almost unbelievable news, practically alone, at least in the physical sense. It is fair and only realistic to say that many young adults who have moved back to their family home, face difficult relationships with parents. Although family naturally are emphatic, for many this simply isn’t enough support emotionally for them. Technology can come as a blessing, it gave me a chance to regularly connect and contact friends, to talk things out, to gain support, and also to access distractions such as Spotify and Netflix, where my mind could be eased away from the impending fear of losing a friend, and not being aware of when. For somebody who is a natural worrier, and suffers from pangs of anxiety, this uncertainty was extremely difficult to comprehend. Usually, in times of emotional distress, I went straight to friends, go for a coffee, hang out, play football, or I’d take some me-time and head to the gym where I felt I could almost physically burn off anger or worry! All of a sudden I was facing the most upset and anger I probably had ever felt, without being able to do any of these things, with nowhere and no one to reach to physically. College classes continued, and I started to truly appreciate them, as they gave me something to focus on daily.
Although my friend had been told she would have eight months at least, she ended up only having eight weeks. She passed in mid-November, with the country still in Level 5. Under these restrictions, only 15 people were allowed attend the funeral, and it was recommended always, for family members only to attend. This is completely understandable, and most people do have 15 relatives between parents, cousins and in-laws. But to accept that you, as a friend, will not be able to attend the funeral of your closest friend, is something that without doubt causes serious upset, grief, anxiety and anger. On one hand you fully understand the regulations and care for the safety of their family, but on the other hand it seems life has thrown you a seriously unfair and unacceptable challenge. In my case, the ‘wake’ was held in a funeral home, and thankfully the public could walk in briefly to sympathize and say goodbye to their loved one. I was truly grateful for this, if this wasn’t an option, my grief would’ve been much more painful and I would probably be in denial. Due to most funeral homes being fairly confined, and most Irish wakes drawing large numbers, there was a system in place where I could enter in a small group, stay for a few minutes and then leave as another group enters. It reminded me of a ticketing system to be honest! The staff of course were extremely respectful and having to direct mourners around in such a situation could not be easy. It was all carried out very respectful but you couldn’t have helped not feeling somewhat rushed.
Naturally enough when grieving at a wake or funeral, we tend to automatically shake hands and hug other mourners. Although there is no ‘rule’ against this, and people of course are empathetic, you could clearly tell that a lot of people were still wary of keeping their distance. Many, like me, were simply left awkwardly standing near a relative, not really knowing where to place my body and feeling like an out-of-place statue! There is something about social distancing at such events that feels inhumane and that causes us to fight bitterly against our natural instinct. The next few days, I was probably living off little sleep but lots of adrenaline. I had no appetite and no motive to do anything whatsoever. Thoughts of my friend, memories of what we did together and a grievance of the future plans we had no longer being fulfilled, flooded my head for weeks, and still do. This of course is a natural response to any grief. All I wanted to do was meet my friends, go out for the day, get a nice dinner or coffee, go see a film, play some football, head to the gym, but I couldn’t do most of these and it left me with so much pent-up anger and grief.
Lockdown is lonesome, I am usually the introverted private type, so for me there was a stark difference between being alone and being lonely. But this time around, I was without doubt lonely and could not find ways to distract myself or cope through these intense continuous emotions. Alongside the grief itself, a massive spike in anxiety arrived. This is common for many, and can spark intense fears and worries of presuming things in life will continue to go wrong, or that you will lose others in your life, through some means. These fears and the anxiety that came with it is still something I’m facing daily and is very hard to overcome when you spend most of the day under full lockdown in a house. Presumed negative scenarios are often replaying in your mind, to an extreme extent. This can be very overwhelming. To contain all these overwhelming emotions, fears, memories and thoughts to the restricts of your house, your 5km and basically to yourself is completely unnatural.
Thankfully there are services available online, that we can use any day to help processes such feelings and difficulties. For anyone going through a similar situation, or facing any challenge which effects them emotionally, I would advise that you use mental health online services. Outlets such as Jigsaw.ie or Text 50808 allow a safe anonymous space to discuss your mental health and issue. Calling the Samaritans on 116123 can also be an amazing way to find a listening non- judgmental ear in a time of severe distress, and can cause serious relief, whatever the issue. These services are extremely useful, and I seriously recommended anyone to use them, even if you consider your issue ‘not too serious’, it is always worth reaching out!