Grieving in isolation

There’s no correct way to mourn, but there are ways to help ease the pain

My Granny died on May 9th. During the first lockdown, while people worried about haircuts, holidays and toilet roll, my family were most concerned about our family’s matriarch, at first alone in hospital and then in a beautiful hospice with a TV and a lovely view of a garden. Daily figures coincided with our daily phone call from Granny. 

It is important to remember that all suffering in a pandemic is relative, and if this had happened three or four years ago, before Granny got cancer, she would also have complained about cancelled flights and haircuts and stupid household rules that don’t make sense. She’d have been up to us in early March with enough pasta and flour to survive an apocalypse. That was just the sort of woman she was. 

Grief is an awkward subject for Irish people. I’ve googled “coping with grief during Covid-19” enough to know that advice like “video chat and message your friends” just doesn’t cut it. Shows like Fleabag and After Life are much better guides to the grieving process. Some people aren’t lucky enough to have access to mental health services, and Irish society being so shrouded in guilt as it is, some won’t feel like they’ve had it “bad enough” to deserve it — which is a lie, by the way. Here are some of the things about grief that I’ve picked up along the way that I hope might help you too. 

Be angry 

Anger will come your way. It’s natural, as it’s not fair that this has happened to you or your loved ones. You might find yourself spying out your bedroom window at neighbours breaking lockdown rules, stalking an ex, or caught in an endless despairing cycle of scrolling through stupid people commenting stupid things under Reddit or The Journal posts. I had to keep asking myself “why?” to try and snap myself out of it. 

Then a monk on an episode of This Morning said that “holding onto anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die”. It resonated with me. I realised that I only felt this way because it somewhat rationalised what I was going through in a way pre-grief me could understand. You might not get angry, but your grief will come out in an unusual way, so try to understand why it comes in the way it does. Try to feel it, but not act on it. As much as I wanted to message my ex-boyfriend to air old grievances, I don’t think that would’ve been the best way to commemorate my Granny. Then again, she probably would’ve just laughed.

Don’t be too hard on yourself

If you do message that ex-boyfriend, don’t get swallowed up in a cycle of shame. Don’t be afraid to eat junk food either. Don’t start to beat yourself up about things you should and shouldn’t have done when your loved one was still here. If you get to say goodbye, that’s amazing, but the truth is: death is messy and unpredictable, and while you may be able to have a beautiful funeral, it’s harder to have a beautiful death. If there are things you didn’t get to say, write them down. If there are things you regret, forget about them. People say life is short but the truth is, life is long — long enough to have fights with people and for those fights not to matter at the end. I didn’t get to say goodbye, and my Granny and I fought all the time women! But we loved each other. We wouldn’t have fought otherwise, and that’s all that really matters.

Live on as if they’re still here

Some of us believe in God and heaven, and that’s a huge relief when someone’s passed. “She’s up there having a laugh at us with a cup of tea and a cigarette,” Mam and I would say to each other when we got particularly upset. Some of us don’t, and that’s okay too. It was in David Nicholls’ One Day that I read another impactful quote about grief that you have to keep living as if she’s still here. It is important though. Your loved one doesn’t want you to fall apart and get stuck. They are not gone from the world because they are dead either. They live on in memories, in cards and letters they sent, messages, pictures and videos. Sometimes when I feel stuck or torn, I ask myself: “what would Granny do?” She was always a moral compass and guide for me before, why should that change now?

There are so many losses to get through

After the funeral, you’re aimless. Between funeral planning, wakes, and pre- and post-funeral customs, you’ll be so busy that once it’s all over you’ll just be glad to be alone. I’m not the most social of people, so the coronavirus loss-of-pints-after-the-funeral was a blessing in disguise for me. I did miss the sandwiches though. 

The arrival of the platters of sandwiches in the pub does not mark the end of your grief, in normal times anyway.  After losing Granny, we had to go through losing the world that surrounded her bit by bit. We had to lose her home that was so dear to us as it contained so much of her, and my aunt and my cousin had to go back to their lives in Australia after Granny’s estate was resolved and probate was granted. 

Sometimes it can feel like a never-ending stream of grief on top of grief on top of grief, and I reckon that the only remedy is to grieve them as you are grieving the person. Don’t be ashamed to cry because your loved one’s phone contract got cancelled.

People will let you down

They do. Friends will conveniently forget to text you to say “sorry for your loss” even though it only takes a minute, or say wildly inappropriate things under the guise of being funny or edgy. It’s part and parcel of grieving as a teenager or someone in their early 20s, although people don’t stop being disingenuous and insincere in their late 20s they just get better at hiding it. I had men try to use my grief as an opportunity for a bit of trauma bonding. Another friend was so supportive, and, after two weeks, reckoned all that emotional labour was deserving of some nudes. 

Don’t be disheartened. There are some really wonderful people in the world who more than make up for the idiots. For example, the amazing person you’ve just lost. The fact that you are grieving is proof that there are people in the world worth loving. 

Your peer group aren’t the only ones worth your time. My dad’s best friend texted me every second day to let me know that I could talk to him about anything. I am not ashamed to admit that I have struck up some good friendships with my Mam’s friends since May. One of my new friends even taught me one of the most important things I’ve learnt, which leads me to my next point.


Grief is a spiritual journey. It will make you question everything you believe in. You will find yourself agreeing with things pre-grief you would never have considered before. Whatever your journey, acceptance will have to be a part of it, and it doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Acceptance also means exploring what death really means to you. Is it having a guardian angel? An end to a person’s suffering? You are free to believe what you like without feeling guilty, even if it infringes on your friends’, siblings’ or parents’ beliefs. Just don’t be annoying about it.

My Granny was the centre of our family and did everything she could to protect us from things within her control. Things outside of her control too, as she did whatever she could to protect us from the reality of her death. She even organised her own funeral so we didn’t have to, so I really do believe that she’s now protecting us from above. My Dad also got his dream job a couple of months after she died in a random series of events that couldn’t have been anything but fate. 

To be honest, it doesn’t matter if she’s not really up there, it just matters that it’s what I believe and not somebody else. Making peace with yourself and your outlook on life is an important path for your well-being outside of grief too. Investing the love you had in your loved one back into yourself really isn’t a bad tribute to pay to them either. 

Finally, the usual advice that actually works

Don’t be afraid to talk to people about how you really feel. You’ll be surprised by how much people who mighn’t have even gone through grief will understand. Eat well and sleep well, now is not the time to try to lose those few pounds that have been getting at you. Make sure to spend some selfish time on yourself, whether that’s doing a face mask, going to get your nails done or spending a day in bed laughing at stupid YouTube videos.

Try to limit your time on social media and on the news, it won’t make you feel better about life. Don’t be afraid to move on when something feels right, because moving on is a myth. Your loved one will always be an important part of your life no matter what you do. And if you haven’t already, do watch Fleabag. I promise it will help.