Grief and Praise in times of pandemic

We often speak about the two wings of the bird in grief tending – an image that comes from Martìn Prechtel. The two wings represent grief and praise, the pain of life and the joy of life. In the teaching as I’ve come to understand it, a full life means one where both wings are strong. We cannot love deeply without deep grief. We cannot celebrate beauty, open to the joy of the moment, let ourselves be free with laughter or creativity without also meeting those moments when the loved one is gone, the laughter and beauty is finishing. Impermanence means every sources of joy comes to an end, everything living dies, every moment passes.

I’ve been with these two wings as I hear people who are either with increasing loneliness, stress or hardship themselves, or are witnessing others in that state. In a recent grief sharing someone spoke of those who have died of lockdown. Not dying from COVID, but from the diminishing of life under the conditions of lockdown.

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COVID Grief

COVID and grief. I’ve been speaking to a few people recently and finding a shared experience of something like a layer of grief in our awareness. It doesn’t feel very acute or sharp, something like a dull ache that comes into focus if I put my attention on it, and then the tears may come. It feels hard to name them all, but somewhere in that layer are griefs for the end of normality, for the imposition of government rules into private spaces, the difficulty of balancing autonomy, choosing the risks I want to take, with public health obligations, the ongoing quiet loss of contact with others, of hearing of the massive wealth grab that is happening by the most powerful, the sense of impending trouble as the fallout of all this on mental health, inequality and poverty roll out, of the slow wearing down of people’s well being, the outrages that are being committed by the old against the young.

The list of COVID griefs feels long and arduous, like a labour that last for weeks. Good to keep it out of my mind a lot of the time. And from time to time I find myself howling with grief, like letting a pack of stressed dogs out after a long time indoors. I’m blessed that I have space to do so without alarming others. I’m grateful for grief tending practices that help me recognise this as a healthy thing to do, without shame.

Sometimes I feel these are the end times, the coming down of modern civilisation. There will be no return to “normal”. This disaster has been spreading across the world since the start of empire cultures, the start of patriarchy or colonialism or capitalism, maybe the start of what we call modernity. Is that true? Sometimes I feel we’re all pulling together as we journey through COVID times, learning to put relationships in the centre, discovering what really matters. Sometimes I feel that the lies of our culture, the hidden traumas carried below the visible surface are becoming clearer. We cannot pretend this system is truthful, or kind. Sometimes I feel we’re being split apart, more divided than ever, that the distortions are getting deeper among the piling up of lies that come at us thick and fast.

I feel the push to get active, to do something

I feel the pull to slow down, to tend myself, to focus on gentleness. Is that a form of service to the world, or a privileged indulgence? Can it be both?

I feel how the driven part of me is just the same as the system that is destroying us. The overriding of pain, the pushing through which wrecks tenderness, presence, deep contact. These patterns were right there living in the people on a retreat for Burnout which I led recently. Not different to my own patterns. I find layers of that in my skin, how acclimatised I am to the absence of tenderness. Taking time for tenderness, to myself, in the way that I do simple things, brush my hair or eat food. Seeking it from others. Is it allowed? How much deprivation we make, of this simple thing, loving touch. How much confusion, tangling it up with sex. How much devastation, locking down a whole population and banning physical contact, except in this specific situation, or that. What if we all took 15 minutes a day to be tender to our bodies, or the body of someone close by? 15 minutes of soothing, easing, loving care?

I explore the tendrils that connect love with longing with loss. What I long for, what I dare to let myself feel. What is too much to long for, because the pain of not having it grinds me down. My heart that became tight, and sometimes is unfurling. The muscles around my heart, my breath, my lungs. The grief that comes when I relax. And then maybe anger. And then maybe, peace.

Sometimes I feel like a motherless child. Sometimes I feel like a motherless child. Sometimes I feel like a motherless child. A long way from home. Thanks to Lindsay who sang this at a Work that Reconnects gathering, before lockdown. It’s stayed with me.

I’m grateful for grief tending. For my teachers. For all of you companions on the path. May we keep finding the connections and contact we need. May their be soothing tender touch for your body. May there be a welcome for the grief that needs to flow, in all its forms including numbness, anger, rage. May we keep on welcoming ourselves and each other home.