Category Archives: COVID-19

Musings on Remembrance Day and Covid-19

Remembrance Day poppy fieldIn Canada, Remembrance Day will be marked this Wednesday, November 11.  Due to Covid-19, ceremonies of remembrance will be different this year–no parades, no gathering at local cenotaphs,  curtailed (if any) events at Legion branches.  And yet, I wonder if the events of past wars are more relevant to us this year than any other as we attempt to adjust to living with the pandemic.  While I recognize that Remembrance Day honours veterans from all the wars, based on my family history,  I’m going to focus on World War 1 (WWI) and World War 2 (WWII).

At no time in this post am I implying that what we are going through with Covid-19 comes close to the horrors experienced during WWI or WWII.  I am only wondering about some similarities.

The Use of Language

As I started to think about the similarities, I couldn’t help but notice the language.  Words are important.  They frame how we look at events.  It’s interesting to note that the language used around the pandemic is ‘battle’ language.  We talk about ‘the war’ against Covid-19.  Nurses, doctors and first responders work on the ‘front line’.  Government and public health officials are creating ‘Covid strategies’.  Just as casualty lists were published during the world wars, we have daily access to Covid-19 statistics by world, country, province, region and city.  The frequent statement of “We’re all in this together.” applies to all of it.

How Long Will This Last?

The thing about history is that we know how the stories end (and when).  The First World War was fought from 1914 to 1918, the Second from 1939 to 1945.  These global military conflicts, the largest in human history, lasted years, not months.

For those living through the two world wars, struggle and sacrifice were a daily occurrence.  Travel was curtailed in order to save precious fuel so it could be used by the military.  Citizens lined up for food and used ration cards–not only to help support troops but also due to food shortages.

Since everything was in short supply, people became experts at making do–whether by reusing materials, making things from scratch, mending, sharing or doing without.  Various governments published information pamphlets with instructions on everything from turning cuffs on shirts (in order to make them last longer) to growing Victory Gardens and canning the resulting produce.

Because of the travel restrictions, as well as the reality of loved ones fighting overseas or in different parts of the country, it was impossible (or difficult) to see family and friends.  Sometimes people didn’t see loved ones for months or years.  A baby born near the beginning of the war may not meet one of their parents until they were about to start kindergarten.

Depending on where they lived, individuals dealt with the reality of daily bombings (being forced from their homes on a moment’s notice, spending night after night in underground shelters). Many people living in England urban centres sent their children to live with family members (or strangers) in safer parts of the country.

Our Current Experience

While not to the same extreme, during this pandemic, we are being asked to restrict travel–not to support the war effort, but to make sure that we stay close to home in order to avoid spreading the virus.  Borders have been closed.

During the spring lockdown, there was a resurgence of cooking, baking, DIY projects and making do with what we had on hand.  Remember the shortages of food staples, cleaning products and toilet paper?  We didn’t have ration cards, yet we were limited to how many bottles of hand sanitizer or loaves of bread we could buy (if any were to be had).

We’ve been asked to make sacrifices–restrict our social contacts, stay away from seniors homes, give up organized sports, work from home and home school our kids (often at the same time).  During lockdowns, public playgrounds were closed.

A major thing that we share with our ancestors is that they didn’t know how long the war would last, or what the future looked like.  They coped on a daily basis.  We are being asked to do the same as we await a vaccine and levels of immunity.

The Change in Grief Rituals

A similarity in both the world wars and our current time with COVID-19 is changing in the way we publicly mourn.

It is estimated that 76 million people died during the two world wars.  Another 50 million died as a result of the 1918 pandemic (commonly referred to as the Spanish flu).  With many of the military deaths occurring overseas, fallen soldiers were buried in military cemeteries near where they died.  Due to the circumstances, many of the deceased were buried in mass graves.  After the wars, great attempts were made to identify individuals and give them their own grave and marker.

While some families may have erected a grave marker in the local cemetery, everyone had access to public memorials to mark the deaths of local people killed in battle.  This was a big change from being able to care for the loved one and be an active participant in the funeral process.

During the 1918 pandemic, people were dying so quickly, and in such large numbers, that regular funeral and burial practices were impossible.  Funeral services were banned and funeral personnel of the time (undertakers, coffin makers, grave diggers) were unable to keep up with demand.  Burials had to happen quickly, leaving little or no time for public mourning rituals.

Grief During Covid-19

As I read about the burial practices of the wars and 1918 pandemic, I’m reminded of news footage of mass graves and one-mourner funerals occurring earlier this year in Europe and New York City.

As we’re aware, funeral homes in Canada have been restricted by the number of family and friends allowed to attend a funeral/memorial service.  Physical distancing has prohibited hugging of loved ones when it is needed most.  We haven’t been able to hold the service that we or the deceased wanted to have.

Grief has sometimes taken a back-seat as we struggle to cope with the daily realities of living in a pandemic, leaving mourners to feel guilty that they’re not honouring their ‘person’ as they think they should.

Strangely enough, while lonely, grieving has become even lonelier as we become aware of the weight of everyone’s grief.

Doing Things for the Common Good

One of the common memories that the Great War veterans and civilians share is that there was a sense of purpose and that everyone was working for the same thing–victory.  People did things for the common good–knitting for the troops, saving food scraps, supporting neighbours and strangers.  While this may paint too rosy a picture, when I have spoken to family members and elderly friends who lived through this time, the hard stories are interspersed with stories of great sharing and connection.

Today, the biggest symbol of doing things for the benefit of all is wearing a mask.  We are asked to wear them in order to keep others safe.  We try to wait patiently in line when required and practice kindness for others.  On a good day, we can give others the benefit of the doubt and on hard days, we can try to keep our lips sealed.

There are also many stories of window visits for people who are in isolation, grocery pickups for at-risk neighbours, food drop-offs for healthcare workers, drive-by birthday parties and baby showers…

Life Will Be Different

Life wasn’t the same for those living after WWI and II.  WWI ushered in the beginning of the end of the class system in Britain (Downtown Abbey anyone?).  Both wars led to a global loss of innocence as we learned of the atrocities that humans were capable of doing to other humans and the earth.  In the US, the technology created by WWII led to the creation of chemicals that changed the world forever as well as the exuberance of 1950’s consumerism.

While we don’t yet know how our world will be changed by Covid-19, we have seen some massive changes already.

  • Working from home has become so common that we may never return to offices in the same way.
  • We are on the move.  As our jobs are no longer as tied to a physical location, people are moving in order to be closer to family and away from urban centres.
  • Relationships are shifting as we let some people go and focus more on others.
  • We are becoming more used to spending more time at home and less socializing in person.
  • We are relearning what is important to us and asking big questions about how we want to continue after the pandemic is a memory.
The Big Differences

While I’ve been focusing on the similarities, there are two big differences that I see between these times in history:  a visible enemy and the ability for physical closeness and support.

No matter which side of the war you were on, there was a shared enemy.  Not only was the enemy shared, but the result of the battle was very visible–casualty lists, bombed out buildings, absent loved ones.  Today, we can’t see a microscopic virus.  It’s hard to believe in what we can’t see.  This can make us feel like the threat isn’t as serious as we are told by health and government officials.  It’s hard to keep up the fight and remain vigilant.

We miss human contact.  During the wars, people were able to band together–friends and strangers alike–as they viewed the destruction.  While they may not have been able to hold a burial for a loved one, they were surrounded by those who could hold and comfort them.

When people are sick of this entire thing, dealing with anxiety/depression and wondering when it will be over; it’s the isolation from all of their people that they feel is the hardest.

So in whatever way you mark Remembrance Day, please take a moment to honour those who share similar struggles today.  We are all in this together.

Let’s remember…

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Riding the Second Wave of Covid-19

Riding the Covid19 waveAs I write this post, Canada is seven months into the COVID-19 pandemic, and at the beginning of the second wave.  While the virus remains the same, there are differences between the two waves–medical experts’ knowledge of how COVID works, the time of year, government responses (I’m speaking of Ontario) and our experience of COVID fatigue.

As we move into the upcoming Winter of COVID, how are ways we can successfully ride this wave?

I’ve Been Reading…

Over the summer months, a very good friend (and researcher) has been sending me articles about COVID experiences worldwide.   Many of them have discussed how the pandemic has negatively affected mental health (increased levels of anxiety, depression and loneliness).

Another common theme is that many of us are attempting to cope in unhealthy ways such as increased alcohol and drug use, poor diet and lack of exercise.  These strategies can lead to a vicious downward cycle of addiction and poor mental/physical health.  For a few of us, extreme exercise has been our tool of choice.  As one person I know wisely said, “At the end of COVID, we’ll either be a hunk, a chunk or a drunk”.

A final group of articles speaks to how our grief has been affected by restrictions around being with loved ones at their time of death, changes in funeral practices and lack of in-person support.  An October 11, 2020 NBC News article suggested that, “The Covid-19 pandemic will be outlasted by the grief pandemic.”

However, while the situation is dire, I suggest that it’s important not to bury our heads in the sands of avoidance, or to float in the waters of despair.  Instead, let’s take stock to get a clear picture of where we are–somewhat like weighing ourselves after the early pandemic baking extravaganzas.  We may not like the ‘number’, and we know where we’re starting from.

It’s About Having a Plan…

We are no longer ‘COVID innocents’. Because of our experience we know what’s coming.  As one news article stated, “Winter is Coming.” no longer relates just to Game of Thrones!  We lived through the tail-end of last winter, and it was hard (and short).  After a three-seasons of socializing outside, we’re staring down the tunnel of potentially five months of weather-induced, minimal human contact.

Now that we have an idea about what the game board looks like, let’s plan our strategy using Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs as a template.

Be prepared:  take care of the ‘bricks and mortar’ stuff.

There is a sense of safety knowing that our basic needs (food and shelter) are covered.  It’s hard to function when we’re concerned about how we are going to get to the store during a possible lockdown if our furnace will stop working requiring someone to come into our home, or we are running low on prescription medications.

If possible make sure that you have some extra staples (food and medicines) on hand if stores move to limited hours, or there are shortages as the wave continues.  I’m not suggesting building mountains of toilet paper in your home!  Also, think about your physical space and what you may need to do to prepare.

Establish or re-establish social networks. 

Once our physiological and safety requirements are met, next comes our need for human connection.  While many of us were able to see more of our loved ones and expand our ‘bubbles’ during warmer weather, those bubbles burst once children went back to school and limited contact became much more difficult.  Cooler weather is also becoming a factor (though many of us are extending the Fall season by using patio heaters, fire pits, etc.).

Stay connected however you can during covid-19Think about who you would like to be connected to, and then talk with them about ways to spend time together.  We know what helped (and didn’t) last time, so we’re not recreating the wheel.  Maybe Zoom calls didn’t work as well due to technical challenges or ‘Zoom fatigue’.  Is the use of FaceTime apps (if possible) or shorter Zoom calls the answer?  In some cases, can small in-person bubbles be kept in place or restarted?  A friend of mine has started to write letters by hand to her friends and family.  Not only is she using this as a mindfulness practice, but enjoying the anticipation of checking the mailbox for replies.  For some of us, sending holiday greeting cards is making a comeback.

One way to continue to see people in-person is to come to terms with the cold of winter.  A podcast on “The Big Story” talks about how people in far northern communities deal with cold and near-darkness for several months of the year.  The answer–change their mindset about winter.  Embrace the colder, cozier months.  You can listen to this podcast here.  Personally, never having been a fan of the cold, I’m investing in warmer winter clothing so that I can see friends and family outside.

Spend time this Winter developing a new skill.  

Maslow’s next level is “Esteem”–not only the respect that we feel for ourselves but also the respect we feel from others.  Now can be a great time to think about how we would like to grow and develop.

Has covid-19 got you feeling frozen?While there are many websites that list activities/hobbies to take on while in lockdown, I’m suggesting that we go deeper.  What kind of human do we want to be going forward?  When we look back at this time (5, 10 or 20 years from now), what will we see?  And it doesn’t have to be all serious–play is important as well.  In my new snow pants, I’m planning to build some monumental snow people, that may be the talk of the neighbourhood!

Relax and give back. 

Self-actualization.  Now that our other needs have been met, we can relax while having a sense of reality.  Because we are in a safe and clear place we have the energy to provide support for others.  Based on the research on how mental health is being negatively affected by COVID, it is clear that the need is great.  Providing help can be as simple as taking the time to really listen to others when you sense that all may not be well with them, or waving at others on your physically distanced walks.

This BBC video talks about how one person’s life was changed by randomly receiving a bunch of flowers.  It’s not difficult to do–even in these times.

Fighting Covid-19 stress with snow angelsSome things are in our control and some are not.  The fact that the second wave is a reality is beyond our control.  However, we can attempt to influence its progress by wearing masks, washing our hands, practicing physical distancing, and following other guidelines recommended by public health officials.  We also have the choice of how we frame our experience.  This is an opportunity to grow our resilience.  Me….I’ll be making snow angels.

And now…because so many of us are adopting Pandemic Puppies, here’s some puppy love!  Enjoy!

 

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