I believe that, irrespective of how many people enter and leave your life, no one can fill that unique space someone leaves behind them when they die.
I’ve experienced this multiple times but never more so than in July last year when I lost my grandmother.
My grandmother was very influential in my life. Due to her ill health, and the fact she was shielding, I was unable to see her when lockdown began. She wasn’t great with a screen and so it was hard to organise video calls.
This meant when she passed away I had not seen her for a while. This was my first real experience of losing a close relative someone who had been a strong influence on my whole life. I’d lost family members before, but no one so special to me as my beloved grandmother.
As Pakistani Muslims, after someone dies we normally have three days of mourning and come together as a family with our friends to pray, share memories and celebrate the life of our loved one.
Doing the pared-back funeral rites for my grandmother, it didn’t feel real because so many people were missing. And those of us who were there couldn’t even hug each other. It was Eid almost immediately after that – our Christmas – when we’d normally spend precious time together as a family.
But then came the announcement of further restrictions which meant we could not come together to grieve together on this important day.
After she died, I look three days off and was then back at work. This was my choice. My work is personally really important to me and I take it very seriously. But honestly, looking back, I was just deflecting and there was nothing to anchor me to reality.
I’m lucky to have a supportive family, but because I didn’t see people properly to talk it through, it was like I was waiting for the penny to drop that she’d really gone.
Sometimes all I needed was a hug and sometimes I couldn’t get one.
My experience isn’t unique and there have been millions of people across the UK during the pandemic, going through similar experiences and grieving in isolation, which could impact on their lives for many years to come.
It is imperative we ensure bereaved people receive the correct support for their needs to prevent prolonged grief disorder and other problems, and I have shared my experience at an event to announce the launch of a new independent UK Commission on Bereavement.
The Commission is independent of government and made up of a group of 15 commissioners, chaired by the Bishop of London, with the aim of reviewing the experiences of, and support available for, people affected by bereavement through and beyond the Covid-19 pandemic.
The Commission will then make their recommendations to key decision-makers, including the UK Government and is supported by a steering group of charities including Marie Curie, Independent Age, the National Bereavement Alliance and Childhood Bereavement Network, Cruse Bereavement Care and the Centre for Mental Health.
Speaking at the event was another example of a societal change I’ve noticed brought on by the pandemic, which is that death exists. In the recent past, death was something we didn’t as a society want to engage with but it is important we do as it can happen at any time, and we have to deal with it. We have to grieve. We can’t just ignore it and hope it goes away.
I view this as a positive of the pandemic in that more people are coming forward and sharing their wishes of what they want at the end of life and talking more openly about this subject which has been so under the radar, and that will make things easier.
Grief is going to stay with us for a long time, and with so many people out there having had similar experiences this last year, I hope the Commission can take on board these experiences so that we understand what’s happened and improve things for the future.
For more information about the UK Commission on Bereavement, follow this online link: https://bereavementcommission.mariecurie.org.uk/professionals/uk-commission-bereavement
Fatima Khan-Shah currently works as a system leader within the West Yorkshire and Harrogate Health and Care Partnership and leads the programme supporting Unpaid Carers and Personalised Care.
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