Grief and greasy hair

I woke up yesterday morning thinking of dad who died – along with Prince, Bowie and Terry Wogan – in 2016. I yearned to be in the kitchen with him talking nonsense. Which is stupid because when he was alive I was always trying to get away from him talking nonsense in the kitchen.

I went into my dad-less kitchen, made porridge, read something depressing in the Guardian and started writing an article that’s due in on Monday. After two hours of writing a sentence, flipping to Instagram, writing a paragraph, flipping to Facebook, I decided to clear out a cupboard.

Ripping up bank statements from 2014, I had another cry about dad.

Then I had a second breakfast – eggs, chorizo and peppers, I am a chef these days – had a shower and put mascara on. This felt like an act of radical glamour.

I face-timed my best friend in Ireland to wish her a happy birthday. She was walking with her son alongside two Shetland ponies who just happened to be wandering down the same road. It was surreal. I marvelled at technology that allowed me to walk with them down a country lane in the West of Ireland while sitting in a flat in Hackney.

Then we lost reception.

I flicked through 593 Corona related Whatsapp chats. I laughed hysterically at a video of an Italian man telling his friend on the phone that this was a great opportunity to look inwards before running through his hectic Corona calendar of zoom calls, online yoga, Zumba and meditation. I watched a Corona version of Bohemian Rhapsody followed by a video of a man giving his Jack Russell a yoga class – and the dog really did it! It was so cute! I delighted in people and their humour and ingenuity.

Then I walked to the shop and my delight vanished. First I was livid with the wind THAT WAS DARING TO BLOW IN MY FACE. Then I was livid with the stupid scarf that wouldn’t stay wrapped on my face the way I wanted to. Then I was livid with the supermarket for being too crowded – so livid I walked out without buying anything – and then I was MURDEROUSLY LIVID at people walking too close to me on the pavement. I saw a group of teenage boys standing by the chip shop fist bumping each other and I wanted to scream.

Over the last couple of weeks I’ve been quietly judging people for judging others on their panic loo roll buying. I’ve made comments like ‘people are just scared…’ while congratulating myself on how magnanimous I was.

F*CK THAT. Yesterday people were just F*CKING IDIOTS.

Back home my best friend called me back and her son came on to the screen and told me that he loved me and that I was pretty and showed me some dance moves.

I hung up and burst into tears.

Then I fell asleep for an hour and a half.

I am falling into deep sleeps in the middle of the day like I did after dad died. I don’t know if this is a hangover from whatever bug I had or if it’s plain laziness or emotional.

I read an article last night that explained that we are all in a state of collective grief right now.

‘The loss of normalcy; the fear of economic toll; the loss of connection. This is hitting us and we’re grieving. Collectively. We are not used to this kind of collective grief in the air,’ explains David Kessler, the world’s foremost expert on grief in an article in the Harvard Business Review.

Kessler explains that we are feeling different types of grief and one of those types is ‘anticipatory grief’ which is when we don’t know what the future holds. Usually we feel this kind of grief if someone gets a bad diagnosis or a storm is coming. With a virus it’s hard, says Kessler, because ‘Our primitive mind knows something bad is happening but you can’t see it. This breaks our sense of safety.’

And that’s true isn’t it? We look out the window and the sun is shining and everything is the same and yet it isn’t.

Kessler describes the five stages of grief. Denial: where we carry on an usual and pretend this is fine. Anger: me on the street. Bargaining: OK, fine if we stay in for two weeks can we then get back to life as usual? Sadness: This is awful, people are dying… And finally, acceptance that this is happening and we just need to get through it. He says that these stages are not linear, we jump between them all, in my case within the space of an hour.

Then Kessler says that ‘one unfortunate byproduct of the self-help movement’ is that we try to squash our negative feelings. We tell ourselves we are not allowed to feel sad because people have it much worse, we try hard to be ‘positive.’

Kessler says this doesn’t work. Instead we need to name our emotions and feel them: ‘Your work is to feel the sadness and fear and anger whether or not someone else is feeling something.’ He says that many of us worry that if we allow the sadness it will never go away. He says that this is not the case. When we allow ourselves to feel our feelings, we find they move on. Often quite quickly.

And for those of us spinning out with ‘anticipatory grief’ – he recommends the Eckhart Tolle approach of being here night now in the present moment. Feeling your bum on the chair. Noticing your heart beating and the light coming through the window… Now breathe. I know it’s really annoying to be told to breathe. But still.

Finally, Kessler recommends letting go of what is not in our control and doing what is in our control – so hand washing, staying home etc. Maybe even going all out and washing your hair. Which I’m going to do now. Well desperate times, desperate measures.

Love to you all.

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