Bishop Martin Seeley on the collective experiences we've shared during the pandemic
Where are we now with this pandemic? As we tentatively emerge from this stage, there is a helpful graph, produced by people who study the effects of trauma, that charts a course for a population that has been going through the type of collective experience we all have.
The graph, understandably, is not that different from the process any of us go through when we experience grief.
It starts with the impact of the trauma – for us, the start of the pandemic. People reacted with fear, uncertainty, and denial.
Back in February and March, it took a while before we actually recognised and accepted what was happening to us all.
Then we rallied. The trauma specialists call this the heroic phase. This was when we stepped up and churches and community groups and neighbours organised phone support networks, food services, pastoral outreach for those in need.
It was when we turned to our health workers and other key workers and honoured and celebrated their dedication and commitment.
It was almost as if our social order was being re-aligned, as we began to recognise and value people for their contributions whom we may have simply taken for granted before.
This was a time of bonding, of coming together and looking out for one another.
While that bonding and hope has continued, of course, it was in those first months that we found ourselves thinking about the good that could come out of the grief and suffering, and how communities would be strengthened.
That is still possible, but the hope then seemed to give way to disillusionment. The hard work and continued stress took their toll, even while care for neighbours and for those suffering continued.
Most particularly, the mounting cases of illness and particularly death have affected us deeply. None of us is untouched, and the unrelenting nature of the illness, the toll on families and friends, and on our health service, wore us down.
Now, with the prospect of the further lifting of restrictions, we have started to look forward again to what might be.
We have been here before – just before Christmas, for example, we were starting to look forward, but that was a false dawn.
This time feels a bit more secure, with the assurance that has come through the vaccination programme.
The Government currently, and of course things can change as the pandemic evolves, looks likely to lift the regulations put in place to protect us all that are controlling our individual and collective behaviour, and replace them with guidance from June 21.
The guidelines will most likely cover how to continue to live with the virus, covering those practices we are used to, about social distancing, hand washing and mask wearing.
We are now, the trauma experts tell us, entering the reconstruction phase. It is a time of rebuilding, of adjustment, of recovery.
We all know it is not going to be like it was and the theme will be living with the virus, as further mutations and variations develop.
It will not be the same as before, and grief and deep sense of loss for so much remains with us, but we can again dare to dream.
And maybe some of those hopes we held on to in that ‘heroic’ phase will actually become part of a better future for us all.
- Bishop Martin Seeley is the Bishop of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich and is writing a weekly article for readers while church services are disrupted by the pandemic