Rethinking normal in 2022

What will 2022 bring? Rising costs and bills, for sure;  the ‘Great Resignation’; more climate catastrophe? The temptation after huge crises is to return to normal, but maybe it’s also a time to rethink what normal is.

 

So we are on the cusp of 2022 and, while many will be hoping that this is the year Covid-19 ceases to dominate our lives, there are many other challenges facing us, not least of which are rising prices and bills. This may lead large numbers to consider changing jobs, particularly if the skills shortages in many sectors persist, or taking on extra jobs on the side, although a lot of people have already been doing this for years. The rise in the minimum wage in April will help some, but it will come at a time of increasing taxes and fuel bills.

If the skills shortage persists, and depending on location and sector, it could be a jobseekers’ market so employers may have to step up on issues like flexible working and other benefits. Jobseekers who are willing to think more broadly and can sell their transferable skills will benefit.

Even if Covid subsides, however, the aftermath will last for years and in ways that we have not even contemplated yet. What will the long-term impact on women be, for instance? Will they be more likely to seek homeworking or hybrid working and how will this impact their career prospects if office working is still seen as the gold standard? Will the homeschooling and working combo, which has mostly been borne by women, have a negative impact or spur women on, given just doing your job is a bit of a walk in the park now? How will childcare be affected and will it ever get the consideration it deserves from government?

To add to the cheer there is always climate catastrophe to reflect on. If anyone saw Netflix’s Don’t Look Up over Christmas there is an acute sense that the alarm bells are ringing loudly now and yet little is materially changing. My daughter commented the other day: “I think I will live to see the end of the world.” As a parent, you want to reassure your kids. I couldn’t. Something much more radical needs to happen, urgently. Getting ‘back to normal’ is simply not going to work, no matter how much we want to do so. We have to create new normals.

The response to crisis and catastrophe is often to bury our heads in the sand or in some kind of escapism, to look for the so-called ‘silver lining’, because hope is what gets us through the day. And we must find some sense of realistic hope through action rather than paralysis.

A grieving person is perhaps not the best person to ask for hopefulness, but in fact I spend my every waking hour trying to help my children get through the next hours and days – and, of course, helping them helps me. Many people avoid grieving people because they don’t know what to say, because they don’t feel they can make it any better. And it’s true that they cannot undo what has been done. But to tell yourself there is nothing that can be done is a deception. Grief comes in waves, exhausting, never-ending waves, but between the waves there is room for distraction, for a brief respite so you can gather the energy to face the next wave. Providing that distraction, filling the terrible silence, is important whether it is coming round, calling or taking the kids out.

Children need something to look forward to, to get them out of bed, to keep moving through the days and weeks until they can face the full horror of it all, as do adults. Over the years adults have developed their own coping mechanisms, even if these may not be the best ones for endless grief. Children have not been prepared for any of this, they have no coping mechanisms and they often cannot express even one scintilla of what they feel. As a parent you not only have your own loss to deal with, but you are powerless to help the people you most love. Yet every day you have to keep people going.

I am reading the book Over by Margaret Forster. It depicts the aftermath of the loss of a child on the whole family. I looked up Forster’s life because I felt sure she had experienced a similar grief as she seemed to portray many of the thought processes so accurately. One critic wrote that the mother’s grief, which is expressed in its everydayness two years on from the loss of her daughter, in a sense of numbness, detachment and brittleness, seemed unreal. ‘At no point does Louise’s grief feel devastatingly, unutterably real,’ the critic wrote. I’m not sure what would count as being ‘unutterably real’ given everyone’s grief is different. I said to my partner the other day when we were watching something about ghosts that it is not the dead who are ghosts, it is those left behind. We are not really here. Maybe we are not real. Certainly nothing else around us feels remotely real, let alone ‘unutterably real’.

The critic followed this comment with the words: “Louise has suffered a tragic loss, and yet the reader is left wondering, pretty indifferently, “do I care?”’ I wonder, though, if this is the reaction of many people to others who are grieving, even if they would not want to admit it to themselves. What else explains the common experience of grieving families that so many people just don’t get in touch, even with a phone call? Perhaps I am being unfair and it is not a lack of care, but a lack of knowing what to say. Yet saying something, anything, is better than saying nothing at all. You cannot wish grief away by silencing it, just as you cannot wish away all the uncertainty and change coming our way by talk about getting back to normal.



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