Whether the loss is a death, a divorce, children leaving the nest, moving house, job, town or country, or even a trauma suffered. According to popular belief there are several stages of grief which can be endured in no set order, ultimately resulting in a return to some plateau of emotion and acceptance of the change. As someone who has experienced all of the above, I can attest to having experienced all of the stages listed below.
The stages of grief according to a good google search:
The upward turn
Reconstruction and working through
What the pop psychologists don’t tell you about is the sense of impotence and loneliness and an ineffable bereft-ness (I know that’s not a real word, but ‘bereavement’ is too sedate a word for it) that follow a cataclysmic event in your life. These are powerful emotions and cannot be rushed as people try to steer you towards hope again.
Most loss is undesired even when it is the right thing, like children leaving home or a sick relative’s passing. But you are never prepared for it, not even when it is anticipated, and particularly not when it is a sudden passing or a betrayal.
The stark reality of the absence of a person you love(d) creates a void, an abyss, an endless nothingness into which the mourner may slip or fall headlong if she is not careful.
It is the impotence that overwhelms.
Sometimes it rages; sometimes it is numb despair; sometimes it is the outrage at being robbed of something precious. Mostly it is a profound helplessness of having no agency, no way of changing a lover’s heart or bringing back your mother.
Loss offers no way of turning back the clock to change a course of events, doing something differently or preventing the wrenching of your heart from your body, leaving a gaping bloodless pit in your spirit. It is the black hole of the soul that drags all joy into it, excluding all light. It is the negative; the shadow, the nihilism of despair.
When all choices are ripped away without your will or permission, and knowing you have no control over another’s life, love or the ability to alter the course of events, no angry book or swear jar can contain the venom of the internal fight with the immutable fact of loss.
And in its wake, is profound loneliness as you plot a solitary course: an emptiness where love once lived. No matter the kindness of friends or the spirituality that you cling to, you go on alone.
Even when you come full circle and find a purpose again, the hole remains, like a tear in the fabric of your life that threatens to unravel when you pull it. You can patch it, of course. Sometimes the patch is prettier, but should that repair also fail, the hole in your heart is laid bare again.
Some days the opening up of another person’s chasm can rip open your own fragile mend. That’s why we cry at funerals sometimes even when we didn’t know the deceased that well – it’s the scab on our own wounds being torn off again. And then we start all over again to heal our own pain.
So don’t look askance at those who have loved and lost, yet smile again. They have returned from the edge of the emptiness of grief and found
How useful I am finding what I learned about myself – especially the fact that actually I am STRONG to start with in particular areas.
Just to summarise the concept: the test identifies 34 strengths we possess in varying degrees (which are clustered around how weexecute,relate,strategize, or influencein our world) and guides one to amplify your top five, as opposed to highlighting weak areas. It presumes that one’s strengths can also be deficiencies, but prefers to focus on magnifying our talents, rather than dwelling on limitations.
So the big reveal: my top strengths are:
Achiever (Executing) – this girl is no shrinking violet!
Positivity (Relating) – yeah I’m one of those annoying ‘let’s make lemonade out of them lemons’ kinda gal
Input (Strategizing) – I am a collector – of information, ideas, facts – fortunately this has not devolved into collecting dodgy figurines or stuff! There is no stamp, or spoon hoarding for me – I collect thoughts (and children, but that’s another story entirely!) – I research.
Connectedness (Relating) – I see links between people, like puzzle pieces and dominoes.
Communication (Influencing) – step aside Instagram influencers, copywriters and politicians, here I come.
Apparently because I have strengths across the clusters, I am well-rounded – and we’re not speaking about my hips for once. So I can do stuff; I’m good with people; I studyand research well; and I can influence others (if only I could influence my offspring to have a deep, abiding love to replace the bin liner, I could rule the world!
The big question is: how am I going to utilise these superpowers during the quarantine which has been extended for another 24 days (see I used my research drive to check the actual number!). It’s hard when the goalposts are moved, but there are things we can do to cope.
A colleague sent me a list of how folk with my skills respond to this lockdown and it’s scarily accurate for me. I don’t know the source so apologies to the original author. The comment are mine:
Things people like me say:
Achiever – “There goes my to-do list, at least working from home can be more productive.”
I’m always trying to ringfence admin time to get through things so to be honest I was pleased to have the time to get to my To Do List. My problem is that a whole of other minor things were added – like risking my life along the venomous aisles of supermarkets, sidestepping mask-clad aliens who despite covering their faces, have NO idea of social distancing, wondering where the nasty Corona critters are lurking: if I die, just remember it was a tall, elderly man called Mike with thinning grey hair, who kept creeping too close behind me in the trolley queue, despite my actually jumping like a pre-schooler onto the large circles on the floor to draw his attention to the demarcation of safe distancing. (More aerobic exercise than I have had since my last disastrous dance class with Caitlin.) I can’t add anymore distinguishing features because he was wearing a mask – I did consider coughing loudly over my shoulder to frighten him, but I am much too polite.
Then there are the chores that have found their way onto the list (and I am not speaking of daily chores like sweeping or laundry) – I had to wash my windows before I made a video for my staff; every time I walk down the stairs I remind myself that I must remove all the dusty lamp fittings and wash them; I’m scrubbing light switches with the fervour of a nun; Jikking the shower and rehanging curtains that have bothered me for years because some idiot didn’t use the correct hooks, not to mention having tidied every shelf in my cupboard. Mind you, some sanity has prevailed because I have not yet been sucked into the vortex of the maestro’s cupboard, but… 24 more days…
So the To Do List is still there, stood up like a Tinder date…
Positivity – “It will all turn out for the best! This is an opportunity for some great new things!”
The closet Pollyanna in me is secretly enjoying the freedom of the lockdown and finding many bright sides to the gloom of being trapped with 4 other family members. If anything kept me going through all the years of single-parenting five children all two years apart, it was an ability to be cheerful and have fun.
As a leader, it is vital that I now encourage and support my staff and parents and I must say, my school, Curro Century City, is producing enormously creative teaching and learning at this time, by educators who have overnight transformed the manner in which they deliver the curriculum; our estate manager is teaching his community via video to make masks and one of our admin staff is hosting Watch Parties to inspire us with her haunting soprano voice, accompanied by her husband on the trumpet. Curro schools have stepped up to assist in the production of face masks for medical personnel, using our 3-D printers. The learners are having fun and learning to work steadily at their own pace. I had to chuckle at Grade 8s who, when given some teacher-mic-off time to socialise (a sort of digital break time), refused to turn on their cameras because of bed-hair…but there is so much to be positive about.
This crisis has forever changed the way we shall teach in the future and I am so proud of my team. We have taken the threat and turned it into an opportunity.
In our home, Shannon is writing a novel, publishing it serially like Charles Dickens, on an app called Wattpad (I’ll hide my grammarian cringe for now at that spelling). It’s called All the Colours of Light if you’re running out of reading material. And now I have learned something new about publishing – and it’s free.
Input – “What else can I read and research on this, so I can share it with others?”
I must confess to doing some searching online about this virus that has brought the modern world to a standstill. It’s quite beautiful really, this little microscopic fellow earthling: the models make it look like a soft, fuzzy felt pincushion, or one of those kitsch, crocheted toilet roll holders found in tannies’ loos. It’s hard to believe that this odd-looking structure has laid waste to centuries old civilizations in Europe and threatens us all. Move over asteroids and volcanoes; Armageddon is in the microscopic detail. Those Spike Glycoproteins promote entry into cells and love the environment of our lungs. Like millions of medieval horsemen with their spiked flails, the virus army soldiers into war with our antibodies. And it is clear that it is winning in many cases. Poor tuberculoid lungs weakened from battle with the advance army of the TB virus, or the body desperately using the rear guard of antiretrovirals to stay off the onslaught of the HIV virus, quickly succumb.
These things may look like your grandmother’s doilies, but they are lethal. So. Stay. The. Hell. At. Home!
Connectedness – “This all makes sense, we are all connected.”
Standing in a queue at the supermarket, glaring at mask-clad strangers who dare to step forward closer than their allotted line on the floor, it is possible to see there is a crisis in the world; having the imagination to truly appreciate how a microbe from his hand, which has scratched his rheumy eye can fly to my shopping basket can move from the handle to the food item to the cashier’s hand, to her mouth, to her lover’s hand, to his mouth, down his oesophagus and into his TB compromised lungs, takes some imagination. And we just don’t know, do we – whether is me or you who passes that virus on?
To be honest the not-hugging thing is hard. I saw my son at the shop yesterday. Couldn’t hug him. Wanted to – really badly, and will again fiercely, but it could be me who visits this on him and his flatmate. It was the most frustrating thing for a mother – but far preferable to not being able to visit him in a hospital ICU.
The knock-on effect is also so evident in the economies around the world: as containers lie fully laden outside closed ports, importers cannot access their products to sell, to pay employees who cannot sell it and so now have no income to feed their children, or pay their school fees… I am so grateful for the altruism of the parents at my school that those who can are paying their school fees so that the school can continue to educate their children and those whose parents are suddenly impoverished and so we shall still have a school to return to when this is all over.
In pipes Positive Me: “It will be over. We shall emerge victorious from this. We have a warrior leader to look up to – ‘cometh the hour; cometh the man:’”
President Cyril Ramaphosa is our superperson! Captain South Africa!
Keep the emotional connectedness with people – check in regularly.
Communication – “Who else can I talk to about this?”
Well this is me generally. Not for no reason did almost all of my school reports say, ‘Colleen talks too much in class.’ Clever me, I picked a profession which allows me to speak a lot.
But in this time, I am making sure I call my sister (connectedness) and talk things through. I have to say that I always thought I was her person, but am seeing now when I cannot see her, how much she is my person too. Fortunately, I am surrounded by children I can make listen to me too and occasionally my husband comes to snuggle close. I have always been one of those people who needs a sounding board and someone to discuss things with. How fortunate to live with a fellow educator with whom I can unpack some of the challenges our educational system is facing now, someone who gets it. Our dinner table often hosts heated debates and we laugh our way through most things
The Mad Lab makes a good listener too, although her theories on how to do strategic planning accurately in a time of great flux are a trifle elementary.
As leaders, it is vital that we communicate clearly with staff and learners.
Even though we do not all have electron microscopes to magnify this cursed virus so we know it’s real and an obvious threat, we do have the ability to magnify our strengths – then we shall feel we are winning in lockdown… well the competitor in me who wants to win would feel that (but that’s a story for another day…)
“Mastering others is strength, mastering yourself is true power.“
The dusk light is fading and I’ve put on my bedroom light in order to see to type. He comes in to hug me (well actually to nick my adaptor plug to charge his phone while he records a piano lesson) until he sees the street beyond in the gathering gloom below.
‘Close the curtains; everyone can see!’ yelps my husband, ‘We’re floodlit up here!’ This of course is rich coming from the exhibitionist who changes in clear view of passersby normally. (‘No one has complained yet,’ he declares every morning when I chide him for his flasher ways).
Of course the only passing traffic now consists of a rare police car or metro police, patrolling to ensure all citizens are home and adhering to lockdown, single roof light floating silently by like the whisper of a ghost . It is eerily quiet for a street that has at times been a racetrack for unsilenced motorbikes in the early hours, joggers, skateboarding youngsters and dog-walkers conducting the orchestra of protests from jailed canines at all hours, not to mention wandering Ubers, delivery vehicles and vibrating, wannabe-gangsta vehicles. Now the streets are empty. Quiet. Too still.
What I can see is the cute artwork of Mia, the littlun across the road who drew brightly coloured rainbows to festoon their wall – a sign of hope in these uncertain times. It rained today though so they droop melancholically damp on the wall and I hope… I hope she will draw again.
I hope her child’s eye foretells a joy I don’t feel when I see the statistics rising and fear for my staff who live so close to one another in overcrowded shanty towns around Cape Town.
It rained today (probably because I washed the windows last week because the achiever in me must!). I step out onto the balcony and breathe in the damp cool night air. I can hear the sea roar far away. A while back we argued about that sound, Andrew saying it was traffic. Now I know it’s the sea – so near and yet too far…
A siren breaks the stillness, screeching rudely, endlessly in the silence. Ambulance? Lockdown violator?