Rediscovering life after loss

Rediscovering life after loss

Published on 7th September, 2021 at 02:52 pm

While we can’t escape it, managing loss of any kind during COVID-19 is even more complex. But, as with the pandemic itself, the only way out of the pain of loss is to navigate through it. Here, three South Africans share their stories of rediscovering life after loss.

After losing a job

During the pandemic, we have heard the debate between lives and livelihoods rage on. For former beauty editor Leila Petersen, the financial impact of COVID-19 hit close to home when she lost her job just before her five-year anniversary at the company.

“The loss of a stable job and salary was hard, but the sudden pause in my daily routine and not seeing colleagues all while trying to manage my finances was tough too,” she says. Like many others, Petersen was suddenly faced with the ‘new normal’.

After recovering from the initial shock, she leaned on her network to find new opportunities, which led to a job as a writer for an online retailer. While it was a steep learning curve, stepping into a new role helped Petersen to regain financial security and rediscover a sense of purpose, too.

“This experience has taught me that I cannot control everything in life and, more importantly, I’m much stronger and more resilient than I give myself credit for.” But the most valuable lesson for Petersen was recognising how capable she is. “I proved to myself that I am able to make a plan, think fast, and quickly adjust to changing circumstances. Being forced out of my comfort zone made me realise that I may just be the unicorn every company is looking for.”

If you have suffered a loss or any other trauma, here are tips for how to heal.

After losing a baby

At 33, Robyn Stone had been battling with infertility for three years. When COVID-19 hit, Stone had already suffered two miscarriages and was embarking on another round of IVF. Despite becoming pregnant, Stone suffered a further two miscarriages during lockdown. “The fact that we were in the midst of a pandemic made it harder, as I was unable to be admitted to hospital immediately. When you know your baby has died inside of you, it becomes exceptionally heavy on your heart to continue carrying it,” she says.

Equally challenging was going through this isolated from family and friends. “I had to process and move through this loss during our strictest lockdown, removed from everyone, but I knew I had to try pick up the pieces of my broken heart and carry on.”

For Stone, finding an online community offered the support and connection she needed. “The infertility community carried me. All those brave women who shared their stories made me feel so much less alone in my grief.”

She also learnt to channel her heartache in a positive way through journalling, which she started doing at the beginning of 2020. “Putting pen to paper was the ultimate panacea for my pain – my sine qua non for sanity.” And through journalling Stone discovered a new passion and purpose – storytelling. “I realised during lockdown that I had built up enough content for a book and that my story might serve a purpose.” And so To infertility and beyond, which she self-published on Amazon, was born. “I’ve found my voice and finally have the courage to use it.”

After losing a loved one

The loss of life during the pandemic has been staggering, and with tough restrictions in place, many have had to mourn the death of loved ones on their own.

This was Grant Baxter’s experience when his best friend and godfather to his daughter suddenly passed away. “Duncan and I have known each other since childhood, but we became very close friends during our university years,” says Baxter. Despite living on different continents, their friendship remained strong, and at the end of 2019 Duncan visited South Africa with his wife and two young children.

That was the last time the two friends saw each other. Baxter remembers the day he received the call that Duncan was in ICU after suffering what the doctors at the time suspected was a heart attack during his sleep. “It was a total shock, as Duncan was a healthy, fit 39-year-old,” says Baxter. What made it more difficult was the knowledge that no matter how much he wanted to get on a plane to England, he simply couldn’t. “With COVID-19 raging across the UK, and South Africa on the red list, there was no way I could get across to comfort those close to him, which made me feel helpless and disconnected.”

Not long after being admitted to hospital, Duncan passed away, but as a person who prides himselfon always finding the positive in life, instead of mourning his friend’s death, Baxter chooses to celebrate his life and their friendship. “Duncan was a strong, happy guy and he wouldn’t have wanted us to mope around mourning him, so instead we plan to celebrate him, not only now but always.”

Baxter and his friends have organised a plaque and bench at their old school in Grahamstown in memory of Duncan, and Baxter – who works in the wine industry – is pouring his love for his friend into a new wine dedicated to Duncan.

Tips for dealing with loss

Find a network of support
Whether it’s online or in person, reach out to a community of people who have experienced similar loss to you for a safe space to share your story.

Invest in your physical and emotional wellbeing
A healthy body and mind will give you the strength you need to weather the storm of loss.

Find a healthy outlet for your grief
Whether it’s journalling, therapy or taking up a new hobby, channel your sadness into something positive to avoid slipping into a depression.

Read more about how to deal with loss and grief here.

You have access to free counselling 24/7 as part of your Trauma, Assault & HIV Assist benefit. Speak to an expert over the phone whenever you need.

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