Humanistic Therapy in Swansea - "Helping you Help yourself"

State of grief in a pandemic- confessions of a counsellor

It was 4 years ago when I wrote my last blog and as it happens it was about thanatophobia: the profound fear of death https://esperansa-therapy-swansea.co.uk/confessions-of-a-counsellor/ little did I know I was going to go for four years without writing another one, and today I am here to share with you my own experience of grief, for the loss of my dearest father, during a pandemic!

I now know the reason it took me 4 years to come back here, in confessions of a counsellor. At that time, I had set myself up to start a blog based on subjective experiences titled “confessions of a counsellor”. However, after the first blog I confess I asked myself, who is interested anyway? I personally feel the most precious thing you can give someone is your time within your full attention, by being present within whatever experiences they are communicating with you. So then I had a thought “Janaina this is what you do for a living, people pay you to be present in their experience, within its content and context and emotional charge” Indeed, I did sign up to hold my client’s emotions and be with them and create a safe environment for their emotional exploration, in which can be quite scary and provoke a fear of vulnerability, but ultimately I always got their back, as this is my job! However, you did not sign up for this, to listen to my story whilst reading my narrative and with hindsight, I feared that nobody was going to give me the time of day. That is, people pay me to talk to me, how dare me expect them to listen to what I had to say with their full attention, as your time is precious right? Despite the thought that you may start to read my narrative and stop at some point, actually we live busy lives and life is happening all the time; however, at this time I am writing this for the sake of my broken heart and my own grief! The best case scenario, it will be available to you, who is going through bereavement at this moment of a pandemic and hopefully it will encourage you, to talk about your feelings whilst you are experiencing your grief, and to talk about your deceased loved one, for the sake of your broken heart.

Please allow me to say to you reading this right now, whether you are bereaved through COVID-19 or any other cause of death, I am there with you and I want you to know that I feel this deep sorrow that you are feeling right now. We don’t know each other, but I have you in my thoughts every time grief hits me. Although, every death can be a tragedy for friends and relatives left behind, I may sense that you feel a strong spoken or unspoken feeling that certain deaths are more tragic than others. And I agree! When you are bereaved through a pandemic, in which a virus snatched your loved one from existence, there can be a number of things that may be particularly hard for family and friends to deal with. Feelings of guilt, anger and blame my flood within you, as amongst the many tragic circumstances of being bereaved through a pandemic, you didn’t have an opportunity to spend time with your loved one who sick, or to say goodbye in person, due to infection control. Maybe the infection progressed really quickly and it all happened in a heartbeat, leaving you in a state of shock. Maybe you feel your loved one wasn’t looked after, as they should have been. Please know that these feelings are natural to feel, they are energy in motion, they need to flow and to be felt! These feelings are a product of an experience, that something really tragic has just happened to your loved one, in your life and your family Live’s and for the many lives that your deceased one may have touched!

 

In the light of this situation that you are going through right now, I want to tell you that there is something that can help you during this incredible painful time of considerable trauma, and this something is what I am going to do in this narrative, I am going to talk about it! I am going to talk to you about my feelings, and whilst I am writing I am processing the content and context of how it happened! Also, I want to talk about my dad and our relationship, but that is a subject of another blog. I mean it’s good for you to talk about the person you lost and your relationship with them. It’s good to forgive yourself for the things you feel you didn’t do, and to let it go of the regret for the things that you did and wished you hadn’t done! I am sure you have done your best, within the awareness that was available to you at that time. I know, it is just so hard to accept that when people die, they leave their life unfinished and without notice!

Here is the thing: We get to live, and whatever happens in the between, whether we experience life with our creativity, by being both the creator and the creation; or we just live like “Life happens to us”, whichever way, the utmost certainty and the only one we really have is we are going to die – and if we happen to outlive our loved ones, we are going to grieve. I have witnessed the pain that the death of a loved one can cause, as I have shared the grief of others in my counselling room. Welcoming their narrative with precise attention and interest, helping them to get in touch with their deepest emotions, whilst holding these emotions with the best of my abilities, getting touched by their stories and moved by their pain. Witnessing them coming to terms with the fact that “the time has come” Life happens to happen, as there is no life without death. However, little did I know how grief really felt, right there, in the depths of the core of my being!

COVID-19 didn’t kill my dad, but his life came to an end like we expected to happen, he was very ill since the 1st of January and had many health issues for a number of years. We just didn’t know when and how it was going to happen, and when death came to him, he was gone together with his last heartbeat, with only time, in a split of a second, to make his last eye contact with my mother. I didn’t get to bury my father. My father died in Brazil, where I come from, 8.700 kilometres away from me, after being in lockdown himself deprived from all human contact apart from my mother, by being very high risk himself. My brothers and sister didn’t get to hug him for 2 months prior to his death, and spend time with him, like they were before the pandemic. However, I am so grateful, I got to spend all January with my father, after travelling last minute to Brazil, immediately after he was taken into hospital. Also, I had been to Brazil in November 2019 and spent two weeks with him, I can still feel his hug when I was leaving to come home to Wales, he held me so tight that I couldn’t breathe! My father was like that, very intense in his expression of emotions and at many times extremely volatile.

The death of my father happened in the afternoon on the 13th of May. My husband’s phone rang and I answered, it was my brother and as I was passing the phone to my husband my brother said: Jana stay on the line…dad has just died! As it happened, I had spoken to my father via video call 30 minutes before his death. He looked really sad and I said, “tell me dad what is going on with you, you look so sad and so down… for which he answered: who wouldn’t feel sad in my situation my daughter? “I know dad you are fed up with it” and looking into my eyes he said: “I am tired of suffering” and I answered “listen dad you can dwell on your suffering or you can place your attention on the love you have in your life. Your heart is already struggling to beat properly (he had cardiovascular disease) and if your mind is focusing in your suffering you are making hard for your heart to keep beating. Think about it and see what you want to do!” And 30 minutes later he passed away!

My emotional memory is so vivid, that I can recall at this precise moment, when my brother said: dad passed away, how I felt in that moment, I mean right now I need to have a break, because I can’t see the screen through my tears…. I remember exactly the sudden loss of breath – my chest was rising and falling frantically, almost as if my heart was getting too big and couldn’t fit inside anymore and was going to explode!!! Right now, I am actually seeing myself walking out of the house to find oxygen and throwing myself on the lawn, screaming in desperation and despair, while my husband was trying to hold me. I couldn’t bring myself to tell him, don’t touch me – everywhere hurts – your touch is making it worse! I felt ill and in so much pain, I held my heart in an attempt to soothe it, and thought what I most feared, has happened, I lost my dad during this pandemic! The week before it happened, I told my husband: “it would be a tragedy if my father passes away in this pandemic, as I wouldn’t be able to fly to Brazil because of the lockdown”. We never wanted to say goodbye and when I asked my dad, at the end of my 30 days staying with him in January, “please dad don’t break my heart, keep yourself alive for the next time I visit you”, to which he answered, “yes, I will I promise you”. However, we both knew that it was a promise he couldn’t ever have made! My father is not here with us anymore, but I wanted people to know that for nearly 75 years he was here with us and he was my dad (he died 4 days before his birthday)

Every morning I wake up and I remember I won’t see him when I video call my mother later. He used to love to watch me cooking, via video call most days, and used to laugh every time I tried the food whilst I was cooking, making remarks with regards to, it wouldn’t be any food left by the time I finished cooking. So Instead, I close my eyes and I bring him back through my memories of moments we spent together, I embrace myself, remembering all the meaningful and tight hugs I had from him. I miss him so much that it hurts, I feel like a child sometimes, like I want my mother to console me, and when I video call her, we end up consoling each other, because we can’t be together in this incredible hard time, in this pandemic. However, we also smile remembering the many exchanges and remarks that we experienced from my dad and the times when he was healthy and full of life!

I followed his funeral from my phone via video call. I exhausted the batteries of the phones of my mother and my siblings, because I wanted to be there with them in my father’s funeral, in every step of the way. Phones were being charged while they alternate with whoever I was going to call next. Only 5 people were allowed at a time in the funeral, they were all wearing masks and I couldn’t see their faces, which made things 10 times worse. In Brazil, normally the coffin stays open in the chapel of rest and people get to spend time with the deceased one before they close the coffin. I stared at my dad`s face and his still body through the screen of my phone for the whole 6 hours, just to see him for one last time! I remember he looked so peaceful. All the pain in his semblance had disappeared, and I remember asking my mother to touch him and tell me how cold he was… I wished so much to be there and to put my head on his chest and have one last moment with him. It was so surreal to follow everything virtually from my bed, I felt so helpless I couldn’t be there with my family and I am still struggling that I am going through this grief without being able to see my family and my friends, to have a hug and a cuppa of tea, to talk about my dad and to share our stories. I am still struggling that the world hasn’t stopped because my father’s death I am still struggling that people stopped asking how I am feeling, as if time has already passed and life carries on. I know life carries on indeed, but still every time I think about my dad my heart skips a bit, I still listen to his many audio messages, wishing me a nice day, declaring how much he loved me and misses me.

And then I bring to mind to remind myself of the times when we both didn’t have a care in the world, when we spent the time together, like we were going to live forever… I can feel a warmth in my heart, and if I really pay attention when I close my eyes and replay the beautiful moments, for that moment in my heart, I can bring us both together, right back there in that time, in that place when Life was happening, just as it is happening right now… and right now my father wants me to carry on living and making sure to be happy, appreciating others and being in love with life, appreciating that we were never told we were going to live forever, and I feel it’s important to bring that to mind every morning when I open my eyes!

In the mornings I lay down on my side, listening to my heartbeat through the depths of the pillow! Have you ever noticed how you can hear clearly your heartbeat, when you lie on your side and place your attention on your listening ear in contact with the pillow? That is what I do every morning and it brings my attention to the life force beating inside me and reminders me that despite of all the terrible things that happens in the world, and all the hurt that we get to go through, I still have a life to live and I am grateful for that! I am still able to see beauty in everywhere and appreciate the Laws of the Universe! Appreciate that even in the most painful times of our lives, if we look deeply with the eyes of our heart, we can still find many things to be grateful for. Gratitude is a powerful energy, and I am very grateful that I shared precious moments with my father and these moments, not even death, can take it away from me! They are printed in every cell of my body and they are going with me until the end, until it’s my time to say goodbye to this existence. I know…we were never told we were going to live forever and Life happens to happen!

I found it helpful to write a tribute to my dad on the day of his birthday, 4 days after his death and post it in my Facebook page, in which I am going to share with you in my next blog very soon.

P.S.: Please find a way to share your story, speak about your feelings with someone that you trust. If you feel you don’t have anyone to talk to, you can contact Cruse Bereavement Care, alternatively you can write your experience down on the paper, and if you feel you want to share your experience with me, like I have just started to share my experience of grief with you, you are welcome to! My email is janaina.mahe@esperansa-therapy-swansea.co.uk