opinion

"My grief is soaked in layers of guilt." Why Melbourne's fourth lockdown feels so different.

16.8 weeks. 118 days. 2,832 hours. 

That’s how long Melbourne has endured lockdown.

Unfortunately, being a Melbournian, I’ve had time to do the math. Endless time. 

Hearing the news today that the lockdown will be extended for yet another seven days, felt both expected and crushingly disappointing in one hit.

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Upon receiving the news I silently placed my phone down and, feeling a lump form in my throat, I plastered on a false smile to tell my children once again they would not be returning to school. 

This fourth lockdown in Melbourne feels different. Less desperate and frantic. 

What began as a thrill seeking roller coaster of adrenaline and fear has been replaced with a monotonous merry-go-round. 

Despite our cries of “please stop, I want to get off now”, there appears to be no end in sight. 

We have become hardened by the isolation and the depressing familiarity. Round and round we go.

We are witnessing once again the closure of our schools, the cancellation of our social lives, our freedom, our workplaces, our human connection. 

Smiles erased with masks, and hands, whilst clean, remain unheld. 

Days have once again become repetitive and long. 

Instead of searching for the finish line and checking the daily numbers, I have instead turned away. I just try to survive hour by hour, moment by moment.

A heavy fog of 'just get on with it' seems to be the mantra we must learn to live by.

As a city we have suffered and sacrificed greatly to keep our loved ones safe. It has been a necessary evil. But even the hardiest of us are beginning to question when is enough, enough?

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This lockdown has wielded a particularly heavy blow as we had just begun to live our lives again. Parties were held, restaurants opened, just as we were coming up for air, falling into a false sense of security, we were once again cruelly reminded that this return to normal was simply a mirage.

We only have to look beyond our closed borders to be reminded of the reality of the New World. 

In searching for a way to identify the particular sadness I felt I stumbled across the perfect phrase. 

'Disenfranchised grief'. 

Disenfranchised grief is a term describing grief that is not acknowledged as legitimate or real. 

A loss that may seem too small or insignificant to warrant concern. 

That is what I am feeling. Grief. 

I am grieving. Not only am I grieving, but my grief is soaked in layers of guilt.

Because, embarrassingly, it feels like my trauma is simply not enough. As my Instagram feed has taught me, comparison is indeed a poisonous game.

As an Australian I have lived through this pandemic with unbelievable privilege. I have lost no loved ones from COVID. I have a warm bed and food, my children are with me and we have even managed to have enough toilet paper throughout. 

This privilege has turned my grief into what feels like a dirty secret. A sadness I must bear in silence. 

A collection of dark thoughts that creep into my mind which are quickly pushed aside by the chant of: “You are so lucky. You are so lucky. You are so lucky.”

Over and over. 

Imagine if you were living in a country ravaged by this disease. Piling their dead in the streets. Imagine if you were separated from your loved ones. Imagine if you were in hospital. Imagine if you couldn’t breathe.

These dark thoughts keep my grief in check. Keep it locked up. They used to keep me grateful.

But I was gaslighting myself. 

Because everyone has experienced loss during these lockdowns. Loss of time, loss of self, loss of patience, loss of connection, loss of sanity. 

It's the thousand small everyday losses. 

The loss of my chaotic mornings and simply having a place to be. Trying to hustle four small humans out the door and the blissful moment of silence as I exhale and drive away from the school gates.

The loss of the people I can no longer see.

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The undeniable yearning to once again be given the ability to miss the people I am forced to spend every moment of every day with. 

The noise of collective laughter and clinking of wine glasses with a group of friends.

The loss of adventure and hearing the end of day stories told around a dinner table. 

The stomach flip feeling of excitement as the plane lands and a holiday begins. 

The surprises of daily life. 

The loss of moments I was not allowed to be a part of and the comfort I couldn’t provide my loved ones during their losses, big and small. 

I’m in mourning for what could have been. 

Some of these these things I've lost, I will get back. Others are gone forever. 

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These unrecognised losses tend not to attract a ceremony or ritual. 

They don’t warrant flowers and aren’t given lengthy Facebook obituaries. They are just daily moments we took for granted that no longer exist. 

Thinking about my experience of disenfranchised grief, I decided to just stop. Stop searching for the ending. 

I gave myself permission to end the chanting about my good fortune and allow the grief in. To stop the denial. To scream into a pillow. To cry in the shower. I feel it all. To acknowledge that I have no control.

It felt so overwhelming and so heavy. 

And then it made me lighter. 

Because we have to feel it.

I am a proud Victorian and in the comparison game of global experience; I am still lucky. 

I feel bonded to those around me. We are forever bound in our grief, our sadness, our frustration, our sacrifice. 

But we have to be allowed to acknowledge these small cuts have caused gaping wounds that may take years to heal. 

We have to stop comparing our pain and acknowledge the great toll these lockdowns have taken. 

Grieving our losses, no matter how small, doesn’t make us selfish. Or insensitive. 

It just makes us human. 

Feature Image: Getty/Mamamia.