All is not lost …

The world it would seem continues to be an uncertain place where we find ourselves going from one lockdown restriction to another. I’ve started to recognise that my ability to manage the challenges that are coming with this has become more and more difficult on a personal level for me.  There is most definitely no novelty factor left, not that there really ever was one, but the unknown in some senses felt even a little exhilarating to begin with until the reality hit of six months social distancing, not seeing family and not being able to meet friends. For me it has caused a real deep sense of tiredness, pressure and often stress. I’ve struggled in living under more unknown circumstances while trying to manage my life as a mum, leading a church plant and keeping a job going. As someone who loves to know what my week looks like this has really threatened to throw me into anxiety. 

I do like a plan and therefore this got me thinking the other week as to why I had taken such an interest in organising my whole house. Every room had everything pulled out, boxes everywhere and bin bags being filled. I picked our utility room first …it was the worst and in need of the most input – to then organising the kid’s toys, (never a small task) to venturing onto our kitchen cupboards…which was a mistake! There is a pattern here as it reminded me of my urge to remodel our kitchen as an essential necessity for our lives three weeks before our baby daughter arrived. Anyone in their right mind wouldn’t have chosen to attempt a task such as this under such a time frame, yet at the time, I thought this was an obvious good choice to make. Funnily enough it was never finished and two days before Esme was born, we asked the work men to clear up and leave a half-fitted kitchen with me in a crumpled heap crying and asking why it hadn’t worked out. Surprise, surprise. Anyway – I am not pregnant and therefore my urge to ‘clean’, ‘organise’ and ‘sort my life’ got me questioning why? I hadn’t bothered in the last six months …  so why now? 

Partly this has been because the chaos that has built up in our home from six months in lockdown with both of us working and with two toddlers it is no surprise that our house has looked the way it is. However, if I’m being honest it has been more to do with my need to attend to something I can complete and ultimately control when being faced with situations and circumstances that I cannot. We are waiting as I write for the latest guidelines to be released today for the next set of lockdown restrictions and what once didn’t phase me that much as someone who loves change feels very different today. It is not just lockdown, I have had so many conversations recently with people who have lost their jobs, loved ones, whose relationships have either broken down or are in the process of breaking down. It can feel very much like all is going wrong and feels lost. So, where does this leave me? 

Getting our lives back?

I recently was able to go back to the gym and found myself fighting tears in the middle of a spin class at 7am not because it was some unearthly hour in the morning (which it was and should make anyone cry) but because I hadn’t realised how much I had missed one of the places that brings me so much life. The buzz of dance beats at 7am, the atmosphere of a room full of people all in the same place for the same reason…brings me so much joy. I hadn’t realised how much I had missed it and needed it until it was given back to me. It was the same with a work trip the other week – I had the chance to attend a day filming with some good friends and sitting having lunch together I felt all this emotion come up and sit with me as a result of being reminded about what it felt like to be with others, in their company, chatting about what was important. As such an extrovert, social occasions bring me so much life and I hadn’t realised how much I had missed them…until they were given back. I hadn’t realised I had been somehow missing a key part of who I am in relation to other people until I was re-introduced to that person. This is perhaps why the current lockdown restrictions on top of life feels a little more difficult, more lonely and tougher to think about getting through. We now have an understanding of what lockdown means, implies and the impact it brings. 

Created for relationship 

We are social beings – designed to be in relationship with each other and also God. The Bible, particularly Genesis talks about this as it describes that as a human I am made in the image of God, in his likeness and designed for relationship with others and God. Like a car that is designed to go, be filled with fuel and drive on the road, a car that sits in a garage (bear with me on this analogy) rusts and after some time won’t start if left unattended and used for the purposes it has been created for. For me it made me think I am a little like this car… as a human being I am designed to be in relationship with others. We are created and purposed to go and be who we were created to be … with others in relationship and not on our own. But what happens to this part of our humanity when it has been taken away from us? Not by our choice or our own doing. How do we learn to look after ourselves when we cannot live as we want to or need to?

This got me thinking about how I process what is hard in my life right now. What do you do with the grief you hold, perhaps from a life you want to have right now but can’t? How do you respond? I often don’t want to acknowledge the loss I face or grieve what I cannot have as I don’t want to feel more rubbish however Covid-19 is a chronic phase of our lives right now and not a month of difficulty that will pass soon. I want to be able to come out the other side of this pandemic having not been defeated by it. So how do I do this well? 

I’ve started to consider ways I can make space to grieve what I have lost and its impact on me so I can better deal with how I feel and the challenges I face. My hope is that as a result I can be more present in today as well as tomorrow. 

Making Space

They say to be able to deal with grief you first have to make space for it. (I’m not entirely sure who ‘they’ are but ‘they’ do say that…). I have started to wonder if in the place of creating space for the things I find hard, to think about them, think through them, cry about them, get angry with them and start to talk about them whether the grief of what I face begins to look and feel different. Where in fact I can find opportunity in the very thing that has caused so much pain to see a way forward and have the chance to learn more of who I am, why I am here and ultimately where I am going. 

This past year I lost my Gran Sheila. My Gran was a very important person in my life. She was a strong female, a businesswoman who faced many challenging situations throughout her life from living with the impact of Polio at the age of three to losing her Dad, her hero at such a young age of seventeen. She studied Pharmacy and went onto run the family business in Edinburgh while bringing up a child on her own while also looking after a mother with ill health. Her life and her family’s life were far from perfect but to this day I have no memory of her ever complaining. She was someone who was incredibly resilient, generous, often living like a church mouse and sharing all she had with hundreds of charities around her. Bringing up a child on your own sixty years ago was also not socially acceptable… yet she chose to do it. Her example of dealing with what must have been truly difficult circumstances has challenged me to think about how I face mine. 

To begin with I cried – I felt guilty at not seeing her more, being there for her, wishing I could have even had one more hour with her to tell her how much she meant to me. I then tried pushing my pain at losing her away – focusing on other things and not wanting to ‘feel’ what I was undoubtably feeling. I’ve struggled to think about what life without her will look like, Christmas, birthdays and milestones with our kids. She was so very important to me and therefore to not share the important parts of life with her feels very hard. But I’ve learnt that giving space to think about who she was, who she still is for me today even though I cannot see her or speak with her is important. Creating space has meant the pain of losing her comes to the surface and sometimes that has made me feel really sad and alone, but it has in hindsight helped me process where I am and what it looks like to look into a future without her in it. It hasn’t taken away the pain of the situation, but it has helped me consider the future in spite of her absence. 

Living with loss 

How do you process it, make space for it? It’s tough – it’s hard but there is something about choosing to take the rout to go through our pain and process it as opposed to try to go around it that brings opportunity for clarity of my future and how I can face it. I realised that as long as I didn’t accept the loss of my Gran and give space for grieving my pain, I was in fact being controlled by it dictating my every thought.  I would find it lurking behind every hard circumstance and situation. Every time someone mentioned their Gran, every time I realised my kids had done something she would have been proud of, every time we watched a programme she would have like to have known about or when we visited place she would have loved to go, there was this ugly, horrible pain waiting to engulf me.

So, by taking time out – and letting myself grieve has helped me feel like my grief is slightly more manageable, less scary and less controlling of my every day. This process has helped me learn to process lockdown and an uncertain future too. 

Grief and loss will consume us if we don’t allow time to first acknowledge its presence and give it the space it needs. These are important emotions which are as much part of us as other emotions are too such as love and happiness. All is not lost when we make space for the loss in our lives. It may feel all consuming, but in creating space I take control to allow myself the process I need in making space for parts of me that are important. 

It’s been a bumpy road but by choosing to be present in it, by accepting it, and creating space for it in acknowledging how unfair, rubbish and horrible it is it has begun to feel less painful. Life is unpredictable right now and we cannot underestimate its impact on our everyday conversations, tasks and relationships. Therefore, the power of pain is that in avoiding it, it actually controls you and not the opposite way around. I found myself snapping at my family and really struggling with some of the things I mentioned … not because I was in control but because I hadn’t yet made space to acknowledge what I was going through. 

You have more power then you know

I found power in acknowledging the process of my grief with losing my Gran has also created an opportunity to process the challenge of lockdown, how this is making me feel and how I will respond.  

There is a passage in the bible that talks about God being there with us when things are hard. Even if we feel we are alone. It says: 

“So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”

Isaiah. 41:10

As I was reminded about my Gran’s attitude to things that were hard in her life, loss of her mobility, a healthy body, her family, a life that wasn’t easy I am prompted to recognise that in all I face today or tomorrow no matter what I am not on my own. Often words don’t make a difference to someone grieving but someone who is there for you through it does. That is who God is for me and has been for me through all these hard days. The God who created me and the world I live in I know that he holds all things and is working all things for the good even when I cannot see it. I can take my grief, my frustration and anger to him knowing that as I do so… I am not alone and that he cares for the challenges I face. In that place I am promised his strength, and his help when I no longer have the answers. 

You are not alone

So how do we look after the parts of our humanity that need connection or our ways of living that bring us life when we cannot have them? For me this is in a relationship with God. When all I hold dear is taken away, when what I enjoy, find purpose in even is no longer reachable am I less? Less human? My humanity is made for relationship with others – but the most significant others is God. He is not going anywhere and even if gyms close and I cannot see friends I know I am not alone and this brings me some hope. 

So, a closing thought… I don’t know what the impact of lockdown restrictions are on you and how they have made you feel. But I do know that there is a God who cares, who loves you and is ok with you bringing and sharing your grief and loss with him. In the place of no answers there is a God who promises us strength and who will uphold us when we cannot do this for ourselves. 

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