Trying To Grieve During Quarantine

There are good days and there are bad days

Photo by Kristina Tripkovic on Unsplash

On February 13, 2020 my cousin died by suicide. He was 10 years younger than me, happy, handsome kid, a big favorite of my daughter’s. We have a close-nit family, and his death was the biggest blow our family has ever faced. We were buried under a mountain of grief, guilt, and questions that will never be answered. We spent the first few weeks congregating at my parents’ house supporting each other. Then about a month later COVID-19 hit and Governor of Connecticut issued Stay at Home order.

The initial impact of the COVID-19 and Stay at Home order was almost “good”. For a moment, an event of such magnitude was unfolding that it overshadowed our grief, even if only briefly. Then the reality set in. The family was now physically separated, each confined to their own homes, with me living by myself, about an hour away from the rest of them. Fortunately, I have my daughter with me half the time and unknowingly to her she’s done a good job on the days she’s with me to help me cope. But as the days turned into weeks, and weeks are now turning into months, the weight of the grief that I am carrying alone most of the time, has only gotten heavier. The inability to actually grieve ‘normally’ is only amplifying it.

When I first returned to work after his funeral what has helped me was talking. When people asked how I am doing, I would (whether they wanted to hear or not) at length tell them, because for me that is a form of therapy. I also started seeing a counselor at work, to help myself deal with the grief. Talking with friends over a beer about random stuff, talking to co-workers about work stuff, I was regularly talking with someone. Now I was forced into a situation where I had nobody to talk to, about anything. On March 23 we should’ve been marking the 40th day anniversary of his passing (a tradition in our culture), where we would’ve gathered at the cemetery and then have a memorial dinner, which we had to cancel. On March 28th it would’ve been his 32nd birthday. The support system of family and friends to help through these somber occasions was no longer there, at least not in person.

Photo by Sasha Freemind on Unsplash

The isolation and grief started taking its toll right away. I quickly started noticing that I can no longer concentrate. I am fortunate enough to be able to still work from home, but I bounced between work, helping my daughter with distance learning, trying to clean, or cook, or do a workout, or check social media, and I was all over the place, my mind constantly racing. I also quickly realized that the apartment that I thought was so perfect when I got it a few years ago was extremely small when locked in it for weeks at a time. The cycle kept repeating, the dishes, the cleaning, the toys, the work, the TV, the distance learning, the laundry, and nobody to talk to and at times I reached a tipping point and broke down. The days when I have my daughter with me were better, but I’ve come to dread the weeks alone.

I think the worst part of the quarantine for me is that it created an alternate universe in which it’s easy to forget that my cousin is gone. I mean I don’t see any of my family member or friends these days, and they are fine and well in their homes, so he must be too. Then it catches up with you that he’s not here with a punch in the gut, and it’s like a horrible Groundhog Day, over and over again. What COVID-19 took away from me is the chance to grieve, to support each other and more importantly get support. While I try to shield my daughter from my mini breakdowns, she’s a perceptive and empathetic 6-year-old child, and she picks up on things. “You miss him daddy?

As many other people have done during this time, I’ve been finding different ways to keep busy. Fortunately, big part of the day is still taken up by work. (Unfortunately, it has been harder to get even the simplest tasks accomplished in timely fashion). Facetime and HouseParty app have been great at creating an outlet to stay in touch with family and have some fun interactions with friends. When weather allows it, there’s also a lot of walking.

All this free time have given me an opportunity to cook, which I enjoy tremendously. I have taken to keeping a Quarantine Diary on Facebook. It’s my way of ‘talking’ to my friends, by posting humorous updates, recipe ideas and photos of my daughter. The responses from friends to these diary entries help me have some contact with ‘outside’ world and give some sense of normalcy.

At 41 I also decided to check out the popular TikTok platform. I must admit I spend much more time on it than I should, and some friends have expressed concern. But it has given me countless hours of entertainment, and also something for my daughter and I to do together.

I’ve been trying to read more, both fiction and non-fiction. As I am trying to educate myself more on suicide, depression and mental health, I came across Suicide Survivors: A Guide for Those Left Behind, a book by Adina Wrobleski, which has helped me a lot. I recommend it to anyone who has lost a loved one to suicide. In fiction I’m reading a new book in Agent Pendergast series, by brilliant Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child — “Crooked River” and listening to book on tape of “The Witcher” novels by Andrzej Sapkowski. And I have enjoyed way more than I thought I would coloring “The Official A Game Of Thrones Coloring Book”.

Then there’s of course TV. Most of the watching that I’ve been doing has been for entertainment purposes, to forget reality just for a bit. Until I stumbled onto Ricky Gervais’ After Lifeon Netflix. I am not sure what I expected from the show that’s about a man who lost his wife to cancer, considers suicide and lashes out at the world. What I got was a 6-hour cathartic, emotional rollercoaster, which at times brought me down, but then just as quickly lifted me up. Ricky Gervais managed to take a topic of tragedy and sensitive nature of suicide and mental health, and somehow make it funny, comforting, emotional, endearing and educational all at once. I laughed, and I cried, and for the first time in weeks I didn’t shudder when I heard the word ‘suicide’. Grief has a huge mental health impact on people and the way this show tells the story makes it so relatable, so normal. There were scenes and conversations in the show that I needed to hear and that had me wishing my cousin had heard it too. I didn’t know it when I chose to watch it, but it was something that helped me just a bit.

“We’re not just here for us. We’re here for others. All we’ve got is each other. We’ve got to help each other struggle through till we die and then we’re done.”

“Happiness is amazing. It’s so amazing it doesn’t matter if it’s yours or not.”

“Well, I think life is precious because you can’t watch it again. I mean you can believe in an afterlife if that makes you feel better but once you realize you’re not going to be around forever, I think that’s what makes life so magical.”

“You can’t not care about things you actually care about. You can’t fool yourself.”

With no end in sight, the daily struggle continues. There are good days and bad days. I’m trying to get some sort of a routine setup and stick to it. As the weather improves, I try to go outside more. My daughter both keeps me entertained and sometimes drives me crazy. Distance Learning has been both a blessing and a challenge, but it does occupy time. Friends and family stay in touch through technology. I’m up 150 followers on TikTok, so watch out world. As Ricky Gervais’ character Tony in After Life says: “I still have my downs… but then life throws you these interesting little things… doesn’t it?”

Dad to Sophie, immigrant, world traveler, amateur photographer, product manager. Instagram: @alex.mnats.travel

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