• Richard Hughes

Estrangement In Strange Times

Listening to Radio 2 this week, the Rev Kate Bottley was talking about how the coronavirus pandemic has brought her closer to her mother and father.

The self-isolating older folk were now embracing the world of online for the first time, throwing themselves with gusto into group cocktail parties and long distance family monopoly. A whole new level of connection had opened up by these 'baby zoomers' bringing the whole family together. There has to be a silver lining to this pandemic and that is one for sure. The Rev’s message was simple, that love is what is needed at this time. I agree; of course I do. It was heart-warming to hear her talk in this way, but I also felt something else, a deep sense of sadness for those who are estranged from their families.

Being estranged from someone at a time like this will bring up complex feelings. On the one hand, there may be pressure from others to reach out and repair ruptures. With an older parent there may be a sense of there being ‘not much time left’. The guilt and grief of that is a lot to deal with, even when the situation is not heightened by a worldwide pandemic. On the other, the wounds remain, the pain is raw and there may be very valid reasons for the estrangement. Attempts at reconciliation may have been attempted and failed. To take that step again, when everything in the world feels so unsettled can feel risky right now. For people who live with an estrangement, their whole life is often about trying to create a sense of safety and continuity. To challenge that can be unbearable.

Of course the coronavirus feels foreground at the moment, and for many it is all they can think about. Issues that seemed important, or that may have brought them to psychotherapy and counselling in the first place may now feel background. But when we listen carefully to how we feel, the current Covid-19 situation may cast light on deeper anxieties and trauma. And if we can spend some time reflecting on this, it can help bring deeper meaning to those levels of feeling and experience.

Estrangement is a trauma and feelings about it can be triggered by domestic and worldwide events. Feelings associated with an estrangement can be deeply overwhelming and can come unexpectedly as waves of crashing emotion. As I have said, the feelings can be complex. There is sorrow in strength and acceptance in misery. It is hard to hold loss, guilt, anger and a deep sadness at the same time even when it is background.

For many people the trauma of an estrangement can only be unpacked and explored with great care, taking time. The last thing anyone wants or needs is to be retraumatized. But of course right now the trauma of Covid-19 is all around us, it is there in the collective unconscious fizzing like electricity and then of course we are bombarded with news reports and updates. It is hard to escape or to find refuge from.

Like this coronavirus situation there is no timeframe to an estrangement The outcome is unknown. This can be unsettling and people who have experienced an estrangement often talk about living in a constant state of grief. This mirrors the current coronavirus pandemic. Even if you are lucky enough not to be affected by it, you are probably feeling a sense of loss for the day-to-day life you no longer have and that may never be the same again. And it will not be the same again.

At a time like this, when there is so much else going on, perhaps all we can do is be kind to ourselves and acknowledge the complexity of these feelings.

As I thought about this topic, a book I am currently reading fell open at a page about forgiveness. The words resonated and with it a quote from the Greek goddess Athene:

Let your rage pass into understanding

As into the coloured clouds of a sunset

Promising a fair tomorrow

Do not let it fall

As a rain of sterility and anguish (Aeschylus, 1999)

* The book I am reading is Reflective Practice by Gillie Bolton which I would recommend for anyone doing creative writing.


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