11 Jan The Good, The Bad and The Lonely: A Story Of 2020, The Best and Worst Year Of My Life
By Emile Loiselle
I’ve wanted to live in London for a long time, ever since I watched the movie ‘Notting Hill’ as a little girl and fell in love with the blue door and the private garden. As I grew up and learned more about the city’s history, architecture, and culture, my desire to experience it as a resident only became stronger. The fact that London is also one of the most hospitality forward cities in the world and a hub of world-renowned bars just made it even more perfect for me. In September 2019, I found myself at a crossroads and wanted a change in my life. After a nudge from a friend, I started looking into the visa options to spend some time in the UK. I was 6 months away from the cutoff age for the only visa open to me, so I pulled the trigger, and 3 months later, I was on a plane full of hopes and dreams and ready to start my new life.
Two weeks after landing, I found my dream job; I was hired at Bar Swift. As soon as my first day, the team and the bar felt so natural and aligned with who I was as a hospitality professional. I felt so lucky!
Everything was going so well when, in late February, I got a call from my mom telling me she was in the hospital with liver problems. After a few stressful days, the doctors told us she needed a liver transplant, but her illness was manageable. The situation was extremely stressful, though we had hope. I set out to support my mom as best I could from London.
When the pandemic turned the world over in March, I found myself suddenly very much alone in a city I barely knew, with very few contacts and a loved one in need of support. It was a very challenging period, to say the least. Obviously, I thought about going back home, but I put so much effort and money into coming here and settling in, I wasn’t ready to give up. My mom and I talked about it a lot; she really wanted me to pursue my dreams. I couldn’t do much more in Montreal at the time, so I stayed and made sure we talked every day.
Early on, Lauren and Jonathan created a virtual support group with hospitality people from around the world. We talked every day for over 3 months about everything, from our life, the situation in our respective countries to the political climate, our hopes and dreams for the future and everything in between. We also supported each other on our breakdowns when we lost sight of hope. I met incredible humans that I now consider my friends, even though we’ve never met in person; That’s the magic of technology. They definitely got me through a very tough time. I never felt lonely during this period, though, being alone was never a problem for me as I am very comfortable with myself. I was bored a lot, but this was the only aspect of confinement I did not struggle with at first; that feeling came later.
The lockdown went on while Spring passed us by. I spent over 3 months living day to day, finding respite in small activities that required little mental effort, such as reading Star Trek novels, drawing buildings, or cross-stitching. As all the stress and anxiety wreaked havoc with my motivation, big endeavours were out of the question. I was riding a psychological roller-coaster; Some days, I would get up early, cook, and keep busy; Other days, I could only drag myself out of bed around mid-day, eat snacks, and binge-watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer. At first, I felt very ashamed by my inability to “make the most out of this,” learn a new skill, train for a marathon, or start a side business. There was also a bit of resentment towards those for whom this all seemed but an extended staycation. With the help of close friends and our ‘Zoom’ support group, I came to terms with my situation and accepted my moods as they came without forcing anything; it became easier. Then one day, the bars reopened! I was ecstatic to meet people again and have a reason to get out of bed in the morning. Going to work every day felt like a gift, which I was determined to fully enjoy. In June, I moved to a nice apartment overlooking a beautiful park. It finally felt like I had control over my life again and that all would be okay. I could not have been more wrong.
On a Sunday in early August, while on my lunch break at work, I received a call I’d never wish on anyone. As it turned out, my mom had a very well hidden and malignant form of bile duct cancer. She’d been having problems eating ever since she got out of the hospital in February and had become very weak, too weak to survive the aggressive treatment necessary.
I hopped on a plane the next day, and a month later, on September 7th, she passed away peacefully with medical assistance. Even if that was the hardest thing I’d ever done, I am profoundly grateful to have been there for her as she had been my rock, there for me all my life. In the 2 weeks before her passing, she had a few good days. My sister and I were with her constantly, playing board games, laughing, and creating positive memories in an otherwise awful time. We found beauty in this horrific experience; I don’t have the words to express how precious that is. My mother’s example of courage, strength, and love will be with me forever. It gets me up in the morning and keeps me going.
After we laid her to rest with my grandparents, by the sea in her native village of Tadoussac, I returned to London. It was the place I had so much promise to look forward to, and it felt like home. I don’t regret that decision.
Since I’ve been back, I’ve focused on the positive, the hope, and the possibilities to help me get through the grief. I don’t ignore the sadness and pain, as living those intense emotions and learning to make them a part of me is integral to my healing process. I prefer to deal with these feelings in private, where I meditate and focus on self-reflection. The pain is so raw – I cannot talk about it. I cry myself to sleep sometimes, and whenever I think about my mom (every day), my heart swells with love and deep sadness. Writing this story has been cathartic for me, but tears run down my face even as I write. I’m truly grateful to my friends for understanding my desire to experience these feelings in private, on my terms, while still being there any time for me.
Many people have commended me for my strength and resilience. Every time that happens, I smile and say, “thank you,” but it makes me slightly uncomfortable because I don’t see it as an accomplishment. Compartmentalizing and finding beauty and positivity in my daily life is how I cope with the pain of living with this giant hole in my heart. I’ve been burdened by so much stress and anxiety this year that at this point, in all aspects I can control, I choose to look on the bright side and trust that all will be well in the end, whenever that end comes. It may be seen as a strength, I understand not everybody reacts to life-altering events the same, but it’s the only way I know how to keep going. I’m also incredibly stubborn and refuse to give up under any circumstance. My mother was always present to support and push me when I needed her, she never let me quit, and it would feel like I’m letting her down to do so now. In a sense, it’s how I choose to honour her and her love for me.
I touched on loneliness earlier and would like to come back to the subject. The feeling crept up on me after my mom’s funeral when I was alone in her home, packing up her things. Normally, I’m extremely comfortable and enjoy being alone because I have the counterbalance of having a very active social life and a job that puts me in contact with many people. However, when the lack of direct human contact extended and I found myself alone day after day, loneliness hit me like a ton of bricks, and I was very unprepared. I’ve never really understood people that had trouble being by themselves because I’d never experienced it to its fullest extent. I now realize how much of a burden it is to live with this companion. The technology helps a lot, and I’m deeply grateful to have access to my friends via video calls and spend time with them online, but I long for everyday contact, for the opportunity to make new friends or catch up with old ones over coffee in the morning. I even miss being squeezed in-between tipsy folks in a crowded, noisy bar. I haven’t found a long-term solution to coping with loneliness, yet except riding it out. It’s not a feeling anyone can really get used to. If anyone has tips, please send them my way.
It is so important to take a moment and acknowledge the privilege that allows me to make these choices and tell my story. I’m thankful for this international platform empowering me to express my thoughts to a large audience. Throughout the year, I’ve been on furlough with my job secured, receiving money every month. When I had to take off suddenly while the bar was open, the team at Swift was incredibly supportive and let me go for as long as I had to without worry. My job was safe, and back on furlough, I could keep my flat here and afford the rent. I also have an incredible network of friends on both sides of the pond for me in any way that I need, and I have my health. Not everyone is so fortunate and has the ability or stability to make the decisions or trust in the future. People make the best they can with what life throws at them, and we should be supportive without judgment. Let’s keep our privilege in mind, understand how they affect our views and values, and aim not to superimpose them on others’ lives or circumstances.
I wish 2021 brings us all renewed hope and a sense of order into our lives. In the meantime, please be kind to each other and, more importantly, to yourself.
A soft and floral N/A beverage to accompany our endless days at home.
1.00 oz | 30 ml Seedlip Grove
0.50 oz | 15 ml Lemon juice
0.75 oz | 22 ml Lavender and Pomegranate syrup*
2 dashes Bittered Sling Arabica Coffee Bitters
Fill a Collins glass with ice and add all of the ingredients. Top with Fever Tree soda water and garnish with a lemon peel.
*The syrup is 1 part sugar, 0.5 part strong Lavender infusion, 0.5 part pomegranate juice