Grief in the time of Covid-19

We mustn’t forget the others, like Matthew

Updated 13.2.22

In 2020 we interviewed Matthew for our Good Grief! newsletter. The story of his grief journey is still pertinent. But we’re pleased to report, he identifies himself as having experienced post-grief growth since we first spoke to him. To see that story, follow the link at the bottom of this page.

Very sadly, Matthew’s wife Jenni died in January 2020. It was before Covid-19 took over our world. Jenni was young and vital, an active, dynamic psychologist who offered great support to her clients, the mother to three fantastic young men – and the wife of Matthew, love of his life.

When Matthew’s announcement came that Jenni was gone, it was heart-breaking. And to add to the sense of loss is the awareness that Matthew is now alone. His three adult sons had planned to do everything they could to ‘be there’ for their Dad.

But everyone, including Matthew, were realistic about the limitations of this. While the three young men were brought up in the sprawling suburbs of North West Sydney, they have flown the coup, and now live dispersed across the world; one son on the other side of Sydney, one in Tasmania and the other in the USA – just a typical modern family.

So Matthew and the boys had put in place several strategies to help him manage the heartbreak of losing Jenni. More coffees with friends than usual, a trip to France in April to see old friends, and planning for Christmas with the US son’s family in America.

“Christmas was to be in Michigan, in the USA. I was just going to go with my daughter-in-law’s family. Christmas last year was so traumatic, with all of us rushing backwards and forth from the hospital to see Jenni, that I just thought it would be good to have a complete change of scene. But we’re cancelling that now.”

And now, Covid-19 isolation.

“I was relying on social interaction and all those things that I now can’t do, to help me recover,” said Matthew.

“I was relying on being able to socialise when and as I feel like it, with people who matter to me. But of course I just can’t do that now. I can’t meet people for a cup of coffee, groups of friends – I can’t even invite people into my home on those occasions when I’m feeling too low to venture out.”

Matthew is not a complainer, far from it. And that’s part of the problem for our society right now. The infected and the very ill need our attention. The merely grieving are standing aside, stepping back.

It’s an enormous adjustment.

“It’s an enormous adjustment. Jenni was ill for three years and I was quite actively caring for her. All of that has suddenly stopped.

“To be honest I feel like I’m not needed anymore. Part of that caring process is about being needed by the person you love. But there’s no one who needs me anymore. My kids are independent.

“So with the lock down and the social isolation, I’m just lost. The biggest, most crushing aspect of my life at the moment is the loneliness.

“Jenni and I had a cup of coffee in a cafe a couple of times a week but I can’t do that any longer.

Matthew and his wife Jenni, in happier times, before her death in January 2020 and the emergence of Covid-19

“I have to say I think I’ve been coping remarkably well. But I have been distracting myself with a whole mess of changes to the house. I’ve been buying Aboriginal art to stick on the walls. But now the limit of those changes has been reached.

“I was booked to go to France and Italy in June. I’ve got friends who live in France who I was going to visit when Jenni was first diagnosed. So the first trip was cancelled. So then I booked again and I’ve got to cancel that. So it’s a bit like a time machine.

I’m discombobulated.

“Technology is okay. But I’m very much a face-to-face kind of person. So talking on the phone and Skype is fine and helpful but it’s not the same as being across the table from somebody.

“I’m getting some counselling at the moment and that’s really been very beneficial. But that’s a matter of travelling to see the psychiatrist who’s doing the job. Now that’s not going to happen, so I’m going to have to talk via Skype or technology.

“I’m discombobulated. It doesn’t to me have the same connection or value. Is it going to have the same impact?

“What I think would really help would be – I know I’m asking a lot – but if the health professional could be proactive and contact me informally, rather than me having to log in on Wednesday week. That little extra would be really good – if they could ring up and say ‘Well how are going?’… that would be really good.

“I know that would be breaching existing codes. But it doesn’t have to be like a friend ringing up, it could be a more formal approach and still be better than it is now.

“They could put calling their clients in their diary, give a formal structure to their call. But just somebody being pro-active and coming back at me would be helpful.”

The technology is improving in this space – and it is here to stay, but as a new complementary resource, filling gaps without taking over from the face to face connection.

Psychiatrist Dr Michelle Atchison responded to Matthew’s story at Psychiatrist Dr Michelle Atchison’s thoughts on grief and isolation

And we’re pleased to say, life got better for Matthew. To follow the new developments in Matthew’s story, go to: Matthew’s heart-warming story of post-traumatic growth.

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