Loss Around Relationships

Loss Around Relationships

Who ever thought that a hug from a grandmother could be considered dangerous? Or that the New York Times would print an article about how to hug safely? Or that we’d suddenly inhabit the realm of Startrek, speaking to our families solely over computer screens.

 

This is where COVID-19 has brought us: afraid to touch those dearest to us or even to be in the same room. Because of quarantining, we are separated physically from the people we are closest to—and that hurts. It’s a deep loss.

 

In some ways, separating ourselves is an act of love. We are denying ourselves the pleasure of seeing our loved ones so that we can protect them, especially elders from the virus.  We tell ourselves that it’s not that bad. After all, we can Zoom, Facetime, and see each other via technology, but this experience is just a shadow of a real visit, with hugs and plates of food shared at a dinner table, and a goodnight kiss.

 

All this could be more bearable if there were definite timeframe—an end to the separations, to our hug-less state. Now it seems interminable and that’s hard to process. Will it be next month or next year before we can really reunite?  Or will it be never—as in the case of so many elders who are getting sick while quarantined away from loved ones? Older people are particularly vulnerable to this loss since their notion of time is tinged by their own mortality.  

 

No one expected to cut the umbilical cord this swiftly, not old people, middle-aged folks, or young ones.  The separations came without warning or preparation.  We couldn’t squeeze in last-minute visits and trips to see the people we care about the most.  We didn’t even have a week to rearrange not just our lives but also our universes and our psyches.

 

Separation on this scale is unnatural—and it feels interminable.

 

What will happen in the aftermath of this pandemic? Even once we can all touch again, there may be repercussions from so many months of physical separateness.  We may grow comfortable with substituting Zoom sessions for in-person visits, even when face-to-face contact is safe again.  After all, it saves time and money to tele-love. We won’t have to get in a car or on the subway and make the effort of an excursion that is inconvenient and takes up our temporal and financial resources.  We can just switch on our computers, lie in bed, and have a virtual meetup.

 

We make soothing noises and try to protect each other from our separation pain.  We purposefully diminish expressions of loss and anxiety so that we can function, and so that our precious moments together, even on Zoom or Facetime, don’t deteriorate into emotional mess.

But there is a sense of dread underneath all our spirited virtual cocktail parties and birthday dinners.  Will this ever end?!

 

We can let ourselves feel sad at this loss without being overwhelmed with depression and anxiety about it.  One way to do this is through mindful breathing, techniques of breath-in, breath-out that calm our minds and bodies.  We can feel centered even in the midst of this uneasy time—and even without a hug.

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© 2020 Mindy Utay, JD, LCSW