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How coronavirus helped me to grieve for the lost love of my life

Olivia Jordan Cornelius's husband Cam passed away from cancer at the end of last year - but since lockdown friends and family have become more understanding of her loss

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Taken too soon: Olivia Jordan Cornelius and late husband Cam

Taken too soon: Olivia Jordan Cornelius and late husband Cam

Taken too soon: Olivia Jordan Cornelius and late husband Cam

In September last year, I arrived at A&E and found my husband Cam waiting patiently in a corner seat, dressed in jeans and Converse, the kink in the front of his hair straightened by my hair dryer.

He had developed breathless chest pains and a fever in the morning, and had been told (for the umpteenth time since he was diagnosed with terminal cancer four months earlier) to go straight to hospital. They were going to send an ambulance. Cam showered, changed his clothes, smoothed his hair and slowly walked the two miles instead.

Cam didn't want the fuss of a paramedic escort from our city apartment; neither did he want to look dishevelled on his walk should people suspect something was awry - that he was different from most young men; that his body was being consumed by an awful cancer, spreading from his gallbladder to his spine.

In the face of a terminal diagnosis, he tried hard to carry on as normally as he could.

I first spotted Cam walking outside a record store. He walked everywhere. After a few sightings, I plucked up the courage to give him my number and he was in touch the next day. Nine wonderful years later, he was given his dire diagnosis at 33.

That first week in the hospital, where a few fuzzy symptoms had turned catastrophic, I lay in his bed and asked him to marry me.

I never contemplated running away. I loved him and wanted further in - knowing when I took my "till death us do part" vow at 31 that parting wasn't distant and vague, but certain and soon.

Despite getting dressed and walking that Friday, Cam couldn't change the fact that his destination was A&E.

Throughout his illness we tried to cling to normal things, like going to our favourite coffee shop and the cinema, as our careers, travels and some friends slipped away.

It's one of the hardest things to grapple with in serious illness, and then in grief, to know that your life will never be the same as it was before; no matter how hard you try, or however much you want it, you won't ever recover your old life.

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Olivia and Cam

Olivia and Cam

Olivia and Cam

When you're grieving, a big part of the pain is looking at the rest of the world carrying on normally whilst your reality is shattered.

When Cam died just before Christmas, I tried my best to slip back into normality. We live in a culture where average bereavement leave is two to five days, so it's no wonder there is pressure to sweep grief under the rug and get back to business. To smother my sadness I made a swift return to work, to the gym, to brunches and bars.

Comfortably numb in the facade of normality, lockdown hit. I was terrified of the isolation, but it turned out in so many ways to help, not hinder, my healing.

In the age of coronavirus, the world is no longer a normal place. I had existed on the fringe, an outsider in my grief, but now the world was standing still with me.

We were suddenly all on the same playing field, operating under the same limitations, coexisting in the same abnormality.

The things I was using to outrun my grief had come to a grinding halt and, instead, I was left with a quietness in which I was able to begin to acknowledge and process my sadness. I had the time to read about grief, to journal, to take peaceful walks and refuge in sleep.

Lockdown meant so many others were experiencing their own form of grief and loss, adjacent to mine.

For once, the expression 'I know how you feel' was not totally inappropriate.

Friends who couldn't relate to loss at such a young age before were losing their own certainties, their jobs, time with loved ones, their freedom - and we began talking about it. When my friends could no longer be part of my distraction process, we were left to have honest phone conversations about loss - mine and theirs.

As cancer had for me, coronavirus brought to the forefront how cruel and unpredictable life can be, and how fragile normality actually is.

I'm sure few of us saw this coming, and it threw a lot into communal perspective. I have a news alert on my phone for grief which has beeped rampantly with articles during lockdown. As a world, we have been forced to confront loss and sadness in so many ways during coronavirus, and we've created a space to talk about grief, even to consider mortality.

This article itself is a testament to this new-found openness and, though there are no silver linings, there is something good in nurturing our collective empathy. In lockdown I am isolated but have never felt closer to people or more understood in my grief.

Lockdowns will be lifted and the world will begin to return to normal. I'm sure in time my life will begin to find a new rhythm too, and I'll be able to revel in all the big, little and normal things that were taken away from Cam and me.

Loss will be part of this life, always and for all of us.

What I do hope is that the spirit of openness and empathy that came in lockdown will be here to stay.

Belfast Telegraph