It would be difficult to find a human being these days that has not been touched by COVID in some way. Even if you’ve not personally experienced the virus yourself, you may have a friend or loved one who has been affected. Perhaps you’ve not had any first or second-hand contact with COVID at all, but you’ve experienced job uncertainty as a result. It could even be as simple as experiencing a tough time with your mental health as a result of constant changes in legislation, restrictions or being kept apart from your loved ones.
This pandemic has and continues to be an unprecedented wave that for the first time has affected almost the entire globe at once, even if to varying degrees. It is unrealistic to expect that such a historic event does not teach us some valuable lessons about life, what is truly important, and what we need to value. Stories of people undergoing huge life changes as a result of the pandemic have flooded the internet since the first lockdown back in 2020. While not all of these lessons may stick for the rest of our lives, they are also things that we can and probably should take into consideration even outside of the context of a global pandemic.
Not everything might happen for a reason
It may not be a comforting thought to some, but if there’s one thing that COVID has forced us to stop turning a blind eye to, it’s that life is sometimes not fair. Of course, the most obvious way in which far too many people have experienced this is through the loss of a loved one due to COVID-19. The stories of loved ones unable to see or comfort each other in their final moments are truly heartbreaking and have been a reality for too many people, even now as the promise of a vaccine creeps closer to reality.
As funeral directors, we see the reality of this suffering, not only through people who have lost loved ones thanks to COVID, but those who have not been able to say goodbye in the way they’d hoped when their loved one has passed away for another reason. Funerals have been extremely restricted during the past year with loved ones having to stand apart in order to not put their loved ones at risk of infection. At a time when all we want to do is to comfort each other and be comforted ourselves, it seems utterly unfair that so many of us are essentially forced to grieve alone.
Even where funerals are not concerned, so many people have been separated from their parents, their friends, their loved ones, because of the various lockdown measures designed to keep us safe. Those living alone have been forced to experience incredible loneliness as a result of this, their mental health suffering terribly. And while most of us are aware that what we are doing is important, it does not change the fact that for so many, the past year has been mentally exhausting and they find themselves asking how they will ever make up for this lost time that seems to have disappeared from their life.
Weddings, christenings, and other important events cancelled or altered constantly means that we are unable to plan for a future without uncertainty being the new norm. None of it seems fair and we have had to learn a kind of resilience that we never expected would happen.
Feelings are to be felt
As a result of this, it is normal to either not really know what you’re supposed to feel, or to bury your feelings completely. After all, despite the pandemic and the havoc that it has caused in many people’s lives, they still have to pay the bills, take care of their families, feed themselves and somehow carry on in a world that seems strange and foreign to most of us now.
So often, we’re told to chase happiness, without stopping to think that in order to feel happiness, we also have to feel sadness, anger, frustration, and everything that comes with experiencing a once-in-a-century pandemic. Many people are experiencing mental health problems such as anxiety or depression for the very first time because of this pandemic, and allowing ourselves to sit with our negative emotions and figure out why we feel this way is far better than ignoring them. Most of the time, we will find that the source of our sadness is very justified.
There is also the feeling of guilt that can come with having bad mental health if you haven’t been tragically touched by COVID in some way. People may berate themselves for feeling sad about an event they cared about has been cancelled simply because other people “have it worse”. However, this sort of guilt is not actually productive in any way and only reinforces the belief that we must repress negative emotions. If there’s one thing that COVID-19 should have taught us by now it’s that suffering can take many forms. And while someone else’s suffering may very well be greater than ours, we also must be kind to ourselves and work through what it is that causes us pain personally.
There will always be people who have it worse than us, even when not experiencing a pandemic. We cannot force a false sense of happiness for that reason, or else we will never be in a healthy mental state to help others when they might need support.
Technology, blessing or a curse?
COVID-19 has certainly set a new precedent when it comes to the part technology plays in our lives. For many, it has been their one and only window to the outside world this year, whether it’s been as simple as watching TV, or getting to see their new grandchildren thanks to Zoom and an internet connection.
But it’s in the workplace that we have truly seen a revolution in the way we work. Companies all over the world made the brave move to full time remote work during the first wave of lockdowns, with many of them choosing to completely restructure their work model after this “trial run”. Employees are recognising that a more flexible style of work with more time spent at home might actually be beneficial for their families and their mental health, that being tied to an office environment doesn’t need to be a necessity going into the future. Of course, Zoom meetings and online work has been a blessing for some, but for others it has been a cause for great stress. Access to expensive tech in order to work from home is not a reality for everyone, and many rely on being at work in person to get a healthy separation.
Technology has also even affected the way in which we experience death itself. With funerals having a limited number of people this year and families forced to choose carefully who may be permitted to attend, live streams have been the only way some people have even been able to “attend” their loved one’s funeral. Of course, to be able to have this available at all is a gift for many, but it is also a very harsh reminder of just how much times have changed and how far we still have to go in order to reach a semblance of normality.
We have had to learn to form a healthy balance with technology over the course of this pandemic, recognising its ability to do us a lot of good, but also to understand that it cannot replace real human connection.
Live each day
Perhaps a sentimental, cheesy lesson to learn, but one that has been constant and clear throughout the last year. News stories on talk shows of people leaving jobs that made them unhappy, couples choosing to get married sooner than they may have previously wanted simply to seize the day and countless other examples show a clear pattern: many of us are tired of waiting for “some day”.
To be able to live each day as it comes is a special gift and a motto that not many of us are able to live by for all sorts of reasons. People fear financial instability, the opinions of their family and friends, or even just the general anxiety that comes with making big life changes. But there’s something about seeing so much uncertainty in the world that forces us to change our perspective and realise that nothing is truly certain and all the plans we make for a future version of ourselves are never promised. Being sensible is always a good idea and planning for the future is not wrong, but to live miserably or halfheartedly for the sake of enjoying our lives one day is no longer something that feels logical for many of us.
But of course, living each day fully does not necessarily mean quitting our jobs and moving abroad. If there’s one thing that COVID-19 has taught us is that life, above all else, is precious and it is never guaranteed. Saying goodbye is never easy, but it is far harder when we cannot even be together in our final moments. So telling the people in our lives that we love them, cherishing our relationships with them and always making sure that those we love are valued, is one of the most important ways in which we can cherish every moment. We may not be able to change or control tomorrow, but today is the day that we can make an impact on ourselves and the people around us.