Returning during the pandemic and grief

Re-entry is tough at any time, but returning during the Covid-19 pandemic is all the more tricky for a number of reasons. As things start to open up again (I speak from the UK here – apologies if you are somewhere who doesn’t have that hope…yet), the thing that strikes me most is that we all need to give ourselves space to grieve.returning during the pandemic - stay home

Maybe you…

  • were forced to make a quick decision to leave your host country earlier than expected because there was a repatriation flight and you weren’t sure there would be another one
  • opted to stay when the pandemic struck but life changed and you had to make a decision to leave after all
  • came home in the midst of a lockdown and couldn’t see anyone
  • were home on a break and couldn’t get back
  • had a job to come back to but were immediately furloughed
  • weren’t able to see family despite being so much closer than you have been
  • started a job but haven’t actually met any of your colleagues yet
  • haven’t been able to meet anybody new yet, let alone work on making some new friends

It’s been a hard year for all of us, but being caught mid-transition as well makes it super-tough. The pandemic has gotten in the way of all the things we’re told to do to make the transition easier.

Recognising your grief

What have you lost during this time?

  • The possibility of goodbyes
  • The extra time with people you thought would have
  • Friendships, or the opportunity for new ones
  • Family time
  • Freedom
  • Certainty
  • Trust

What follows is one way of working through some of those losses. You can work with these whether or not you are someone who returned during the pandemic. We all face loss.

How to work with your grief

  1. Take time to make your list of what you have lost. There could be so many losses – you will need to make your own list. Sometimes the way to start is with the hopes you had: “I had hoped that…” 
  2. Spend time with each entry and allow yourself feel the emotions. If this isn’t something you find easy or feel comfortable doing on your own, find someone to talk it through with.
  3. Feel the emotions and allow yourself to mourn what is lost and what is possibly not coming back or going to be the same again. Show yourself some compassion, or feel compassion for yourself as you would for a child who is hurting.
  4. Once you have engaged with your losses, look at each in turn and work out if you need to do anything in response – do you need to contact anyone, do something different, plan something? 
  5. Finally offer these things and the hurt up to God / the universe and start the process of letting go. Different people do this in different ways. Burning your piece of paper or ripping it up. Bringing each one in prayer. Shouting each of them at the top of your voice in a remote part of your local forest. You know what will help you. Let your intuition guide you.

returning during the pandemic - grieving

Take your time

Obviously grief takes time to process, and it doesn’t just happen in one sitting. Grief comes in waves. If this exercise brings things up for you that were unexpected, please do reach out to someone for help – a friend, counsellor or coach who can help you process what is coming up.

In the meantime, I’d like to finish on a more positive note. Returning unexpectedly can bring about good things too. Sometimes it just takes us a bit longer to see them or acknowledge them. What have you gained this past year / through your re-entry? Which things have been unexpectedly good? What have you learned that has changed you?

Do get in touch if you need help as you navigate your return during the pandemic. You may also find my blog post After the honeymoon helpful as you settle back into your home country.

5th May 2021