Acknowledging Loss during Lockdown
Currently still in transition but taking small steps coming out of it. I have in the past talked about this time as a Transition - a moment that will bring up changes, losses, and difference. We currently do not know how Lockdown will end or how it will turn out. Will life be changed forever, and in what way? These thoughts are what are building up our anxiety and feeding the uncertainty we experience.
Like all transitions, there is loss through change and it can be important to pause and acknowledge the losses you have had. It may also be important to acknowledge the unexpected gifts that Lockdown has offered you. As you move on through this transition you may start to lose sight of the things you have gained. The losses, you are likely to feel deeply, emotionally and within your body. But the gains often slowly fade unless you and purposeful pay attention, acknowledging the purpose they served you over this time.
At the moment, as lockdown eases, there may be a greater sense of loss. As things start to change the things we miss can become even more apparent. This is because while we have been busy trying to juggle our lives in Lockdown we haven’t had the emotional space to stop and think about the losses. But these are often stored in our bodies, underneath the anxiety. And over time, as the changes start to become apparent, the losses may begin to emerge more strongly and you may begin to feel them as stronger emotions of sadness, anger or anxiety.
So many things have missed during lockdown and there is a big sense of loss.
Loss of loved ones, family and friends. Either through death or because of distance, or because lockdown has revealed to us that some relationships did not serve us anymore and we have had to let go.
Loss of privacy, independence, freedoms that we had got used to both in our homes and outside of them. The spontaneity of doing things and traveling to places is currently on standby.
Loss of education, work spaces, intellectual space.
Loss of silence in our homes and perhaps noise outside of it too.
Loss of safety at home and outside of it. That basic human need of safety has been lost for many during Lockdown and coming out of it may mean accessing safer spaces but also facing contexts that may suddenly feel less safe because you have to interact with others.
The Tree of Life – A Narrative Therapy Exercise
Sometimes it’s not enough to just acknowledge loss. We know this is a historical time in our lives that will be written up in books our children will learn about. It is important for us to think about what stories we want to hold on to, what we would like to share with them and what role we want to play in shaping these memories.
I use a lot of Narrative Therapy work with the families I work with and also run groups for young people I work with in paediatric hospitals. I have shared a therapeutic exercise in my most recent IGTV called The Tree of Life (watch it here).
The Tree of Life is a hopeful and inspiring approach to working with children, young people and adults who have experienced hard times. This methodology was co-developed through a partnership between Ncazelo Ncube (who was working at REPSSI at the time) and David Denborough (Dulwich Centre Foundation). Ncazelo and David initially developed this Tree of Life approach to assist colleagues who work with children affected by HIV/AIDS in southern Africa. This approach has proved so successful and popular that it is now being used with children, young people, and adults in a wide range of countries across Africa, and also in Australia, Brazil, Canada, Russia, Nepal, the USA, and elsewhere.
This approach enables people to speak about their lives in ways that make them stronger. It involves people drawing their own ‘tree of life’ in which they get to speak of their ‘roots’ (where they come from), their skills and knowledges, their hopes and dreams, as well as the special people in their lives. The participants then join their trees into a ‘forest of life’ and, in groups, discuss some of the ‘storms’ that affect their lives and ways that they respond to these storms, protect themselves, and each other.
The Tree of Life enables people to speak about their lives in ways that are not retraumatising, but instead strengthens their relationships with their lived experience, their culture, and significant people in their lives.
The Tree of Life has been used with children, young people and adults in many different contexts, including groups of refugees and immigrants; people whose community has suffered from a natural disaster (floods); groups of young people who have been expelled from school; women who have been subject to domestic violence, neglect, physical abuse, and emotional abuse within their families; adults who are experiencing mental health struggles, and in many other contexts.
It is usually run as a group and I was trained in this approach at UCLH by the paediatric psychology team while I worked there in 2009. UCLH established the model for young people living with type 1 diabetes and has been monitoring its effectiveness through outcomes, developing a growing evidence base for young people living with Type 1 diabetes. The Tree of Life is now being used across paediatric hospitals in the UK for other conditions too including IBS, cancer, and epilepsy. (If you are a professional interested in this see my resources page for papers on the Tree of Life and links to the training course at UCLH).
For obvious reasons, there is no evidence base for this model's use for our Lockdown experiences. However, while we don’t have an end point to CV19, I feel our current experiences are similar to being diagnosed with a chronic health condition.
It is sudden, it involves a shift in doing every day tasks, it involves loss to your ‘normality’ and often your ‘identity’, it changes your support network (increasing in some areas and losing some in others), and there will be aspects of the experience that have led you to grow and change in ways you may have not expected.
I hope that if you decide to engage in this exercise it will help you
narrate a richer story of your experiences. One that acknowledges loss alongside your individual strengths, values, abilities, hopes and dreams that have helped you get to where you are now. It can be an empowering process and help you as a family to script a story of Lockdown that brings all the elements of your experience together.
The exercise involves drawing a tree and I have added an example image for you to refer to.
DRAW THE TREE
Roots: The young people’s background, culture and family history.
Ground: Their daily lives. Trunk: Their skills and abilities. lBranches:Theirhopesanddreams. Leaves: The significant people in their lives.
Later on you will also be adding:
Fruits: The gifts they have been given by others.
Flowers: The gifts they have given to others.
PLANT THE TREES
Put up the trees together – your family forest of Life.
Once you have drawn the tree, you can interview each other on each of its parts, using curiosity elaborating each of your personal stories. Questions like: tell me more about that! Who helped you with that skill? What made it possible for you to X during Lockdown?
THINK OF THE STORM OF LOCKDOWN
We all go through storms in our life and Lockdown is one of these storms. Think together about how storms affect trees – help your children think about what leaves may have fallen off, what has happened to the trunk and how the ground may have shaken. Think about your Lockdown experience as a specific storm.
CONSIDER THE FRUITS AND FLOWERS
Consider the Fruits – what gifts you have been given by others in your family, friends and community. Share these in conversation and add them to your tree or to each other’s to illustrate what gifts you have given.
Consider the Flowers – these are the gifts you have given to others during this experience. Again, talk about this together and discuss what others feel you have given. This could be your time, brining fun into your home, helping others or joining in community support. Add these to your tree, labelling each in whatever way is meaningful to you.
REFLECT ON YOUR FAMILY FOREST
Stand back and look at the family forest you have created together. Reflect on your tree now – the things you have gained, the things that have helped you get here, and how much richer your family forest is with these flowers and fruits. Take your time to also acknowledge the losses, the leaves that may have fallen, what branches have cracked, and what parts of your daily life have been shaken up and changed.
Some families like to keep this as a memento of this time, a bit like a capsule memory. You may wish to keep up the trees somewhere visible or take a photo. You may wish to record a video or audio recording as you share your stories. You may wish to add to the exercise and do it again in a months time or when it feels things are shifting again to help you feel empowered to keep going. You may decide this isn’t for you at all and that is also absolutely okay.
In order to honour our experiences of Lockdown we need to take our time to make sense of our experiences so that we can process them fully and take our learning with us into the future. Acknowledging loss is unique to everyone but there is great power in stories and sometimes it can take re-writing a story to make sense of what has happened.
If you decide you want to do this exercise as a family or couple and want to share your ‘forest’ please do tag #flowersandfruitsoflockdown
If you have suffered a bereavement or losses that have changed your life in ways that you are finding difficult to come to terms with and would benefit from talking to someone about it do not hesitate to book in a 20min chat or 1 hour more in depth conversation with me.