Are you grieving for lost time? Why it's okay to mourn the opportunities stolen by coronavirus

Marie Claire Dorking
·8-min read
Are you suffering from GOMO? (Posed by model, Getty Images)
Are you suffering from GOMO? (Posed by model, Getty Images)

As we raised a glass of bubbly to welcome in 2020, we felt a tingle of excitement about all the opportunities the next 12 months might present.

Fast forward to this 31 December, however, and instead of celebrating everything we’ve achieved and experienced, some of us are grieving the things we’ve missed out on.

For many, 2020 will go down as the year of lost opportunities, which has left us collectively mourning everything that might have been.

Forget FOMO, this year we’re feeling GOMO (Grief of Missing Out).

“This year has been a year of losses,” explains Owen O’Kane, psychotherapist and author of Ten Times Happier.

Naturally we immediately think of the sad human losses the world has seen. But there have been other losses economically, socially and individually. Many people have expressed a sense of lost time for what ‘should have been’.”

Read more: How lockdown may have changed your relationship

From cancelled weddings that had been years in the planning, to postponed fertility treatment putting parenthood on hold indefinitely, cancelled trips of a lifetime and business closures, there are tales of skipped opportunities everywhere, leaving people feeling robbed of their plans.

We’ve also been left wondering what may have happened had the coronavirus pandemic not come along and flipped our lives upside down.

“Nothing has gone to plan this year,” says O’Kane. “The consequence, of course, is that people experience this as loss and with that comes a sense of grief.”

Laura Hampton, 34, from Bingham, Nottinghamshire, is part of the Team GB skydiving team Chimera and was due to travel to Russia this summer for the World Skydiving Championships. This was, of course, postponed due to COVID.

Laura Hampton was disappointed when the Sky Diving championships were cancelled. (Martin Skrbel at Skydive Langar)
Laura Hampton was disappointed when the Sky Diving championships were cancelled. (Martin Skrbel at Skydive Langar)

“It was pretty devastating when the event was postponed,” Hampton explains.

“We’ve been training together as a team for four years and for us, this was the equivalent of the Olympics - an incredible opportunity to do what we love and make our country proud.”

Hampton says this whole year she has felt a bit like she is going through a grieving process.

“When the news of the pandemic was first breaking in the UK, we were out in Spain on a training camp and at first, we felt disbelief,” she explains.

“Next came a process of trying to find a solution - we looked at changing dates, changing plans, changing locations, anything that could make our original plans come to fruition in spite of the pandemic’s impact.

“But as time passed and the gravity of the situation became clear, we moved into first feeling like the situation was very unfair (completely illogically!) and then acceptance and sadness - not just for our team, or even for our sport, but for the situation facing people across the globe and its impact on the lives we lead.”

Read more: Recognising and dealing with grief is key to mental health during the pandemic

Cherilyn Leeson, who runs Ooh Betty! Clothing, had her wedding cancelled twice this year and is worried it may now be postponed for a third time, which has left her and her fiancé hugely disappointed.

Cherilyn Leeson and her fiancé were disappointed when their wedding was cancelled twice. (Collect Cherilyn Leeson)
Cherilyn Leeson and her fiancé were disappointed when their wedding was cancelled twice. (Collect Cherilyn Leeson)

“I've gone from being excited about it to just being fed up and wanting it over with,” the 32-year-old from South Derbyshire tells Yahoo UK.

“At points I've said to my other half I'd be happy to just go to the registry office and not even bother wearing my dress or doing anything special for it (he's said no to that) and I’m struggling to even get excited about the possibility of a big day at all.”

Watch: ‘Lucky’ foods to eat for a prosperous New Year.

Feelings of grief over lost opportunities are often accompanied by a sense of guilt for mourning a loss that could seem trivial amid the devastation wrought by COVID-19.

But psychologist Niels Eék counsels that leaning into feelings of disappointment is no bad thing, as it may actually “be helpful to approach the loss of this time as a grieving process”.

“Being upset about lost time is not something to be avoided or embarrassed about, it is a very natural reaction,” explains Eék, who is co-founder of mental health and self-development platform Remente.

“There is no blueprint of how to feel in this situation, so don’t be worried about accepting whatever emotions you experience in response to your present situation.”

Read more: Why we turned to nostalgia to get us through 2020

O’Kane says there are a number of ways these feelings of grief could manifest, including: experiencing fluctuations in mood, low motivation, angry outbursts, withdrawing from everyday life events, negative and catastrophic thinking.

“Ultimately your hopes, dreams, aspirations have been shattered, which inevitably leads to an array of emotions such as anger, sadness, and disbelief,” he explains.

“Psychologically you are processing a loss of what was supposed to be.”

Missed opportunities this year has left many suffering from feelings of grief. (Stock, Getty Images)
Missed opportunities this year has left many suffering from feelings of grief. (Stock, Getty Images)

The good news, according to O’Kane, is that in time, lighter emotions such as hope and acceptance will emerge leading you back to a greater sense of normality and ease.

In the meantime there are some ways to help manage feelings of grief over lost time:

Give yourself time to grieve

Eék says while it might feel easier in the moment to suppress these emotions, in fact the best way to deal with them is to acknowledge what you are feeling.

O’Kane suggests allowing yourself a period of time to be disappointed. “Feel the emotions and talk about it,” he advises. “This will help you process, rather than get stuck in a rut.”

Open up about how you are feeling

Once you have taken some time to understand and process your feelings about the time you have lost, Eék suggests sharing your thoughts with a friend or family member. “It is easy to feel isolated in the current circumstances, but that makes our support networks all the more vital,” he explains.

“If you talk to someone you are close to about how you are feeling, you may find that they understand what you are going through and are able to empathise or simply provide an ear to listen

“This year, if you are alone, unable to connect with loved ones or feeling overwhelmed or unable to cope, always seek help from your GP.

“Maintaining good mental health is as important as maintaining good physical health. Just as you would seek help from your doctor if you were injured, your GP is there to listen, to talk to you and can direct and/or refer you to a mental health specialist if needed.

“You can also look to websites and mental health charities that are there to help, such as Anxiety UK, Mind or Rethink Mental Illness for additional resources.”

Switch your viewpoint

Perspective is key. “You are grieving a loss of something that has the potential to be recreated again in the future,” explains O’Kane.

“A practical life event loss is not finite and new opportunities will emerge again.”

Look after yourself

Eék says it is important not to become fixated on the past. “Anger or sadness at a loss of opportunities is completely understandable, but taking care of yourself in the present can help you to recover,” he says.

“Maintaining healthy routines with regular exercise is a good way to help yourself think positively, as endorphins released during exercise can boost your mood naturally and help you feel more energetic.”

Try to think positive

Remind yourself that the current state of the world is temporary and better times will come, advises O’Kane.

If you want to take a more positive mindset into 2021, Eék says gratitude journaling is a great way to start. “By writing just a few sentences or bullet points about what you feel grateful for each day, you can help yourself to adopt a more positive outlook on day-to-day life,” he explains.

“You could also keep notes of positive memories and moments, that you can look back on as a reminder, later in the week, month or even later in the year.

“In future, this can serve as a reminder that, although we have all missed out on things this year, there are still some special and memorable experiences that we can take from it.”

Adapt your plans

Missing planned events that held special significance is always demoralising, but it is important to think about adapting to our current situation, rather than giving up on future plans.

“While the birthday party or holiday that you planned may have been cancelled, you can still keep in contact with important people in your life,” Eék says.

This might mean suggesting a Netflix party or a video call over a cup of coffee, or an outdoor walk. “Whatever activity best suits you, try to be active in staying connected and remind yourself that there are still things to look forward to,” he adds.

Utilise the experience

You can decide to allow the situation to teach you how to build resilience and become more tolerant of life’s uncertainties, says O’Kane.

Cut yourself some slack

It is normal to take some time at this point in the year to reflect on the events of the past 12 months and think about what has changed and what we have achieved.

“When looking back this year, make sure to keep in mind that coping through such a difficult time is an achievement in itself,” says Eék.

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