Suffering with grief and loss in 2020

I don’t know if 2020 was a good year for wine production but I think we can all agree it wasn’t a good year for the human race. Yes, I know historically we have had badder (no, that isn’t a word) than bad times before, but in terms of the boomers and beyond, it has really taken the biscuit (if you’re not familiar with that British idiom, I apologise but I hope you get my drift).

I remember a time when every new year came around, I’d hope the next twelve months would be an improvement on the last. Even someone as cynical as I am still reserved a little optimism for nice things to happen. But hello January, and crushing disappointment.

However, we can confidently say 2020 cannot be bettered in terms of bad years, as far as global pandemics are concerned. It will be, for many years to come, the barometer on which we measure the worst of times. 

As Carly Simon said, it makes me feel sad for the rest. Just when we thought we had experienced previously, terrible years, 2020 comes along, doing it better. 

My 2020

It was not a brilliant start.

I turned 40, and although I don’t mind so much about the big, 4 – 0, so many other people seem to, at least, they keep reminding me about its alleged significance. I know, that as a woman my currency has taken a nosedive, and my womb is dying but still, I’m rocking a septum ring, I enjoy Hip Hop (I can’t name a single tune from that genre, so don’t ask me) I’ve still got some youth poker chips, right?

Along with being gifted middle age in 2020, I also received no work, I didn’t have a career to speak of at the start of the pestilence. It’s true I have not always made the best choices. To suggest I wasted my formative years is to woefully diminish that action. I pissed my youth up the wall and now I’m here, telling you, a perfect stranger about it. 

It can’t get any worse, can it?

2020 wasn’t done giving me its ‘best’. 

My 32-year-old stepson was diagnosed with leukaemia.

His father, my husband, took his son for a routine check, just to figure out why he ached so much, and why his sore throat wouldn’t clear up. His GP thought it might be sepsis, which is serious and cause for concern. They yearned for sepsis when they heard the words, “It’s Acute Myeloid Leukaemia”. 

He had an aggressive form of blood cancer, and we weren’t even out of January yet. 

2020 became the gift that kept on giving as the UK went into full lockdown. Hospital visits were restricted, and my stepson was alone. 

Weeks – months of treatment were given, gruelling chemo stages, one after the other, he took them all like a good soldier. He read all he could about his disease and put on a happy face for his three young children, laughing and joking with them over the phone or on video calls. He was going to fight as hard as he could, not being there to see his fourth child born was not an option. And he did fight, he fought like anyone would when they have so much to live for. 

When your life hangs in the balance, you do what you can to survive

COVID meant he couldn’t be there to see his son being born. On one of the few occasions he had respite from treatment, he went home and made some memories. A bone marrow transplant gave us new hope. As ever, he was outwardly cheerful, reassuring us all that things would be fine. But deep down he must have been desolate.

He died on a beautiful sunny day in August. 

I got to see him one last time, as his organs were failing but before he became unconscious. Death was near, he wasn’t that little boy anymore, that chubby, funny kid who loved his family. I watched, as his parents saw their son slowly drift into nothingness. I knew my husband would never be the same again, and I had no idea how to help fix him.

Grief is grief 

This isn’t a competition. I didn’t reveal this to be smug, or say “look, my trauma is bigger than yours.”

My terrible 2020 doesn’t lessen your experience

When we care for a thing, we feel emotion. If you lose something important to you, you’ll grieve for it. When your partner no longer thinks the relationship is working, when the company gives you the push, when your parent dies, these are all losses. These things break us and we each deal with them in our own way.

Some people self medicate, it’s ironic that humans hurt themselves to take the pain away. We do what we do to get by, and sometimes it works and others, well, you get the picture. I use humour. The dark, blackest of comedy keeps me from going mad. I have to find the funny in a hopeless situation because if I don’t, I’ll be forced to confront the magnitude of what has happened, and until I’m ready for that, maniacal laughter is my coping strategy.   

Every bad thing that happened in 2020 was magnified by COVID. 

We’ve all lost something

People have lost their homes and their livelihoods. They’ve lost people they love, their personal freedom, and their sense of self. Some people have lost their escape from an abusive partner and remain in a home where every single day poses a threat to their existence. Couples wanting to start a family may have lost their only chance of conceiving. 

2020 has robbed you of something

It’s stolen from you and you might not be able to get that thing back. And I’m not here to tell you to be grateful, suck it up, or don’t complain. The phrase, “It could be worse” is not coming out of my mouth. 

I bet you had moments of happiness in 2020. Shards of hope that sustained you, helped you keep fighting, tempered the days when you couldn’t get your arse out of bed, or lift your head from the pillow. We all sit on the COVID spectrum, some have had their worst year and some, believe it or not, their best.

I’ll tell you what though, I am grateful, I got to say goodbye to my loved one, many didn’t have that opportunity, plenty had a wall between them or geographical obstacles.

And although 2020 has gone, we’re still picking up its laundry and trying to rid ourselves of its impact, in reality, we know it will be some time before we get over this toxic relationship.

That doesn’t mean we can’t look forward to shards of hope in 2021.