I’ve experienced many journeys, travelled the world to many countries but nothing can compare to the personal journey I have been on in the last 18 months.
As bizarre as it sounds I’ve been on the longest, toughest journeys, yet haven’t even left my house. Real in-depth, facing things I haven’t wanted to face, confronting my deepest inner self … indeed there’s no greater challenge in one’s life than the battle within oneself.
In the last 18 months I’ve been hit by a barage of bereavement. I am still grieving for the loss of my mother whose life was taken suddenly when she suffered a sudden heart attack. At only 65 this was a huge shock, she was with us one minute and seemingly fine, then just a couple of hours later she was gone. I reflect constantly as many things remained unsaid, thoughts and love are now buried with her and we cannot get that time back.
We were then hit with the painful unexpected events with many great losses of good friends, colleagues and family whose lives had been cut short as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic we have all become so familiar with.
The uproar and chaos this pandemic has caused and is still causing affecting every single one of us, taking over our way of life, limiting our interactions, routines, moving around, our plans, our priorities and for many of us sending our stress and emotional levels to breaking point.
Looking back at the past 18 months saddens me deeply and I’ve been very affected, hurt to a whole different level.
I have lost over two dozen friends, family members, colleagues and scores of people to this horrible pandemic. People I’ve come to know and serve alongside as a politician, community elders, close relatives of good friends the list goes on and on.
I found myself thrown into a completely different routine, having been a local Councillor I’ve become used to a busy schedule, responding to community needs, attending council meetings, being at grass roots level and dealing with ongoing casework. Then suddenly I found myself, as so many others did, in a completely different territory, a complete standstill. The same four walls, no social contact, no face to face conversations, no spontaneity.
Rigid Zoom calls took the place of meetings and they themselves had a whole new set of social etiquette: taking turns to speak, listening carefully, muting and unmuting mics, trying to make sure everyone was heard in the allocated time and decisions were made. I no longer needed my car, or took actual journeys to places. I was confined to the same environment, as we all were and still are trying to make the best of a bad situation in order to stay safe and protect others.
This constant groundhog day feeling pushed me into feeling more and more confined, the days all seemed the same, the weekends disappeared and normality had all but gone.
All these factors mounted together to cause me to spiral into a whirlpool of devastating emotional depression. I had no control over anything and the depression had gripped me and I knew it would not let go easily. I got to a point where I could no longer make sense or navigate my feelings and thoughts and felt completely isolated and cut off which just added to my sadness and pain.
Going through all this and more I found comfort in listening to spiritual and mystical poetry and songs, trying to calm down a tsunami of emotions and a volcano of grief erupting within myself.
To divert all this negativity I found a way to vent my emotions and inner feelings by writing poetry. Firstly I wrote a poem about my late mother and dedicated it to all mothers in Seraikee language, my native language similar to Punjabi and Hindi. I also composed music and recorded my voice using creativity to express myself.
Lockdown restrictions have impacted this work, but I am confident I shall release it from UK, Dubai and Pakistan this summer. I’ve invested a lot of time on it and fully hope people will enjoy my tribute song which is also being translated in English, Arabic and Persian.
During all this time my wife who is also my best friend, and my three daughters who are my life and soul, all remained my greatest source of strength.
I thought I was going through all this on my own, alone until I found out about another very strong inspirational character. Sarah Thornton, a friend and neighbour in Beeston who was fighting a bigger battle than mine. She is dealing with the recent bereavement of her husband by channeling her emotions into art.
‘Facing the Storm!’ is her most recent painting conveying emotions of loss and depression during Covid. We hope the piece will be shown at the Leeds Art Gallery to illustrate the inner struggle facing grief.
Sarah Thornton adds:
This piece of work depicts how I feel currently, an expression of my grief and bereavement during lockdown.
I hope it translates some of the overwhelming emotion I feel. I recently lost my husband to pancreatic cancer on 7 February. The restrictions and rules enforced by Covid have made things so much more fearful, adding to the sorrow of his death and beyond.
Covid has put a strain on many causing uncertainty, financial burdens, stress and loneliness which all have a huge effect of our wellbeing.
Face to face contact, sharing a hug, a smile have all become treasured gifts we long for. My hope is as we re adjust and rebuild, whatever our circumstances, we become more thoughtful, considerate and we appreciate the little things.
I love our Beeston community and I am proud to be part of it. The impact of imagination and generosity from people I know and don’t know has helped me through my bleakest moments yet. This had helped me feel ‘held’ and given my son and I strength to face the days. We have received an outpouring of love through cards, gifts, texts and a financial support page where people, some of whom I’ve never met face to face have donated a gift of money and prayed for me in a South Leeds WhatsApp prayer group.
I’m thankful for the loving kindness, Beeston you stepped up and you make my broken heart burst with pride.
My hope is that my artwork will resonate hope, inspire or make someone feel less lonely. May you take some comfort in it and may it speak to your soul.
You really are not alone, same storm, different boats.
In tribute to David his funeral will be on Tuesday 9 March, a week before our son’s 13th birthday. The service is close family only at the Church of The Nazarene, Hunslet Hall Road. The funeral procession will begin at 12 noon and all who wish to pay respects can do so on the roadside down Dewsbury Road. Please maintain safe social distance and do not enter the church grounds.
Donations can be made to the angels of Wheatfields Hospice.
In sharing our hearts we urge everyone not to feel lonely. Reach out and ask for help, you are worth it. Be kind to yourself and live life fully. May the struggles we encounter help us appreciate what we do have and not focus solely on what we don’t. Share the love and help each other.
Here are some amazing places of support in difficult times of grief and depression: West Yorkshire grief and loss support line, Leeds Bereavement Forum, Leeds Mind, Age UK, Marie Curie, Macmillan Cancer Support, the NHS and compassionate friends.
I personally would love to thank MHA Communities South Leeds (Live at Home), local churches, Holbeck Together, Slung Low and all the other organisations that make South Leeds great, delivering shopping, befriending by phone, walking dogs, picking up medication, etc.
You are heroes and we salute you and your efforts in helping your neighbours.
There is hope for the future and a ‘new normal’, but together we are stronger and together we will keep moving forward with courage and strength.
This post was written by Cllr Gohar Almass
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