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‘We’ve all lost something’

“The world has surely become a funny place if one can no longer simply reach out for a handshake, without thinking twice about it or having to sanitize afterward. It’s such a small, basic gesture that is part and parcel of who the people working in agriculture are, but now I have to think twice about the possible risks it entails each time I want to greet someone,” says Izak Groenewald, manager of JW van Wyk Boerdery on the farm Lakenvlei near Ceres, upon reflecting about the major and minor ways in which COVID-19 has impacted the South African agricultural sector.

“We’ve been lucky. Our workday routine ‘before and after’ lockdown basically stayed the same – but with the addition of extra safety precautions such as the wearing of masks and the daily health monitoring of employees,” Groenewald explains further. “No one on our farm lost their jobs. Even during the period that the creche had to close, we were able to reassign the women normally working there to other teams. Plans had to be made so that the children were looked after, though.

“Because we could generally go about moving around on the farm or even exercising, we never experienced true lockdown mode as people living in towns did.”

That said, Groenewald adds that the reality of Covid-19 in the Witzenberg area, one of the first designated rural hotspot areas in the Western Cape, profoundly hits home every time he goes into town for business.

“Everything just takes longer. There are queues outside every shop and bank,” he says.

New regulations put in place to safeguard their farm community also means that only one member per family may nowadays go into town, with fewer busses heading into Ceres. For those doing the shopping rounds, it has become a rush to get everything done, while those that are left at home is missing out on a social outing.

Because education facilities had to close, it robbed many parents of the peace of mind that they had in pre-COVID about their children were being cared for at school while they were at work.

Frikkie Jacobs of Boradyn Farms near Villiersdorp is a self-proclaimed people’s person and says that he has missed socialising with friends and family the most.

Prof Alida Herbst, director of Northwest University’s School of Psychosocial Behavioural Science, says that it is important to acknowledge that everyone is experiencing some form of loss during these times – be they young or old, male or female, and irrespective of their position at work or economic status.

Some losses are very tangible and “big” in the greater scheme, such as losing income, job security, the passing of a loved one, or being able to afford the birthday present promised for so long to a child. Other things might seem insignificant to others, such as not being able to play rugby, hanging out with school friends, going to the beach, or being able to give a carefree hug to a grandparent or favourite teacher. According to Herbst, each loss counts and has meaning to the person experiencing it.

She says that people tend to move psychologically and emotionally between two “circles” when they are trying to cope with loss. On the one hand, there is the circle of bereavement and loss, and the other is one with an orientation of repair, adjustment, and adaptation.

“Normally one will be moving in and out of the circles. If you find yourself for too long in one state, you might want to start considering chatting to a friend or to a professional,” she says.

Herbst often advises clients to informally keep track of their mental state for a week or two, to gauge where they are in the process of grief or adaptation. “I am just as worried about the person who says that everything is constantly happy-go-lucky than I am about the person who is constantly in the doldrums,” she says.

“We must acknowledge our losses, even if we cannot necessarily explain them to others. It’s OK. It’s also OK not to be OK all of the time because you are finding yourself in the midst of uncertain times. It is normal to sometimes find yourself doing, feeling, and thinking abnormal things because this is a time of great uncertainty.”

Take time to (re)think

Prof Herbst says it is healthy for people to take the time to reflect on four questions surrounding how they are experiencing the pandemic (or any other crisis or stressor), and the changes it has brought about in their lives:

Ask yourself:

  1. Which wounds were caused by the crisis worldwide on a physical, emotional, spiritual, social, and economic level?
  2. Which wounds have it caused to you, your family, and community on a physical, emotional, spiritual, social, and economic level?
  3. What have you so far done that has helped you handle and survive these wounds? What have you learnt in the process about yourself, your family, your community, the world at large, and (if applicable) the God that you serve?
  4. What have been the hopeful lessons that you have learnt about yourself, family, and others that will be useful on the road that lies ahead?
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