‘If I can love my sister from beyond the grave, I can love my family and friends from the other side of a screen, down a telephone line or through the railings of a garden gate’

By | November 9, 2020

There are some people for whom the solitude of living with Covid-19 is a balm to the soul; they relish having time to themselves without feeling that pressure to engage with others in social gatherings and activities. In the main, however, we humans are social beings; we gravitate towards one another in many aspects of life.

Even from a young age, we instinctively connect, babies smiling and reacting to the presence of others, enjoying that connection with the people in their world. As we grow, we make friends, we participate in social activities, we join groups, partner up, have families, become part of teams, clubs and societies. We have groups on our phones, in our neighbourhoods, at our places of work. Most people tend to like other people, and to want to be around others, and one of the cruelties of Covid-19 is that it rips us apart, for in order to stay safe and stop the spread of the virus, we must stay away from one another.

When we can be around each other in these times, we must stay physically distant. We must cover our faces, unable to even see the warmth of that human smile that we’ve loved since we were babies. Immeasurable distress follows this virus in the form of deaths, closure of businesses, loss of jobs and income. Not being able to connect with one another in the ways that have been meaningful to us, is another significant casualty. In order to mind our mental health at this time, we must pay attention to that need to connect and find ways to honour it whilst staying safe.

A key word that will help us in this endeavour is ‘adapt’. This is about recognising that you like being around your family, friends, neighbours, teammates, work colleagues, and hobby and interest groups, and that this need doesn’t go away just because the virus forces us apart. It’s about knowing that the like and love that we have for one another can survive this virus; it can withstand this period of enforced physical separation. It’s about acknowledging that we need to be creative now and continue to adapt as we have since March, so that we can continue to feel some sense of connection with one another, even though we can’t feel the warmth of a hug or the comfort of a touch.

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A vital tool

Adapting is a vital tool to have in our armour, because we need to accept that when it comes to this pandemic, in the short-term at least, this isn’t going to get easier. We have an unknown road left to travel and we need to get better at living with the challenges of these trying times. Life asks now that we find ways to get through, and that’s what we must do; learning to adapt can be part of the psychological strategy to get through.

A stumbling block is, of course, that we don’t want to adapt. This time around, people are understandably sick of Zoom, FaceTime, WhatsApp and any other platform of video, or indeed, phone calling. We want to see one another in person. To stand beside. To sit close. To share plates of food and pots of coffee. To lean in for a kiss or reach over for a hug. We don’t want to make do with seeing up a loved one’s nose when they keep holding the phone under their chin, or missing every second word because the connection keeps freezing during the call. It’s not enough, it’s not nearly enough. But right now, it’s what we’ve got and it’s important to use everything we have to help ourselves now.

For we must remember that love outlives physical presence. In his book Tuesdays with Morrie, Mitch Albom writes that “death ends a life, not a relationship. All the love you created is still there”. Grievers learn over time what this means; we maintain our connection to and our relationship with the person who died. We connect with them through our memories, by incorporating their values into our lives alongside our own, in doing good things in their name. We nurture the love we feel for the person who is no longer here and we continue to feel the love between us. In essence, we adapt.

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Together, apart

Thinking of this pandemic, I look at it this way: if I can love my sister from beyond the grave, I can love my family and friends from the other side of a screen, down a telephone line or through the railings of a garden gate. It’s about adapting, finding ways to connect that might not be my first choice, but which serve to nurture our relationship.

Phone calls, text messages, video calls; handwritten notes, groceries or flowers left on a doorstep, or a favourite treat secretly stashed inside a delivery of milk and bread left at the gate. Remembering dates that matter to them, asking about events that happen in their lives, checking in a bit extra when I know they’ve had an especially tough day or tough week. Having a smile on my face when they ring, even if I feel grumpy that day. Knowing who likes phone calls and who prefers video calls. Even more importantly, who appreciates the funny viral videos and who can’t stand them. Tuning in to tone of text and tone of voice, and gently, subtly, being there for someone when their tone suggests that they’re struggling. Having the chats and the laughs over text while we watch favourite TV programmes in our own homes. Together, apart.

Love conquers all

In many ways, it’s about making a decision: that thief Covid-19 isn’t getting everything. It’s not getting us, our love, friendship, companionship, our shared life. If we have to connect this way for now and be remote in how we love one another, then so be it. We can continue to turn toward one another in whatever ways we can, supporting each other through these uncertain, frightening and demanding times, showing Covid-19 that love does conquer all.

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When it comes to this pandemic, we need to acknowledge the pain, we can’t gloss over the longing to be together or the loneliness for one another. Being apart from one another brings all levels of hurt and it’s important to say that. It’s also important to do all we can to mind our mental health and navigate this time in our lives, and that isn’t about positive thinking or looking on the bright side, it’s about helping ourselves through the awful.

When we adapt to ensure that we remain connected to loved ones, even in ways that aren’t our first choice, we help ourselves.

STRATEGIES
⬤ Think about who matters
to you in life
⬤ Consider how you used to connect with them pre Covid-19
⬤ Accept that something is better than nothing
⬤ Consider alternative ways to connect and be creative in this respect
⬤ Remember that whatever the connection platform, it’s staying connected that matters

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