As people around the world self-isolate because of Covid-19, factors like unease, nonexistence of social interaction or outdoor time, and commercial stressors have led to mental health challenges. While everyone’s circumstances vary and people are experiencing this global pandemic in different ways, many have found respite using different approaches.
One of the major fallouts during this period is that a lot amongst us lost their loved ones to this pandemic. And the feeling we sense henceforward is of an imperfect circle in the heart that is failing to get a closure, despite numerous efforts.
In normal circumstances one would grieve the loss and make it easier with relatives pouring in for all the days of the mourning period and perform the rites as per their faith — giving friends and family an opportunity to pay their respects. Given the estimates that as much as 40 percent of the human population could become infected before the pandemic is over, the new coronavirus could lead to the death of millions. And as the mortalities rise, so does the sorrow that trails in their wake. The COVID-19 pandemic has already had a profound effect on the grieving process. Many of those who have lost loved ones to the disease caused by the new coronavirus have been unable to be at their bedsides as they passed away, due to quarantine measures or couldn’t fly due to travel limitations in place.
Uncertain loss taps into our protective instinct; it takes grip in the part of us still snuggled to the idea our loved one will walk through the door at any minute until we have proof otherwise. With obituary practices also having to modify due to COVID-19, this proof can be delayed. We’re left in a state of disbelief, mentally holding those who’ve died in suspended animation.
The bombardment of media surrounding COVID-19 can make death feel like another statistic, while also increasing the larger culture of fear. For those who are grieving, it can feel as though talking about the deaths of loved ones will only further tax family and relatives struggling with their own challenges and fears. To begin admitting death is not occurring in a vacuum, it’s important we share our stories openly and allow others to do the same. Colloquial expression such as “I’m sorry for your loss”, “he was a great man”, can further strip away death’s reality and frustrate those who are grieving. We didn’t “lose” our loved ones. In fact, we know right where they are, we just can’t get to them and that only adds to our frustration. Allowing ourselves the extensiveness of our emotions, even those we fear will make others uncomfortable, allows us to begin fully dispensing our experience and placing death, however remote it may be, into the framework of our lives. When it’s our person that died, we’re permitted to be furious at the virus, the structure trying to manage it, the survivors who are thriving, and even at the person who died and left us behind, to make sense of it all. We are allowed these emotions, and so many more, because we are human beings, making sense of the senseless, in any way we’re able to.
We don’t want people going back to work right away, which in no way is a thing to do. During this time period it is completely healthy to shut things down, be with family, and take care of yourself. But the big thing that’s lacking now, given that we can’t have normal funerals and other observances, is social support, and that’s significant. Hence, the need to self-isolate can make the grieving process that much more difficult. One may not be able to give a full send-off to their loved ones. All of which makes it challenging for the family to process their grief. One of the things that help us move forward after the death of someone close to us is accepting that loss. For the want of a better phrase, the funeral makes it real. It also gives us a chance to see the lives of those we lost acknowledged by our community.
In the absence of friends and family members at our sides, we can find new ways to connect with old traditions. Some of us may choose to recite in the memory of the loved ones for funerary rites or read something that gives us comfort; we may gather friends and family through video conferencing to impart stories or one may talk about some events just to make us all laugh. In sharing these stories, we provide ourselves with a vital aide-mémoire: the moments we were able to be present far outshine the moments we were absent, including the moment of death. What’s important is that we honour our grief — sometimes alone, sometimes together— taking time to face the reality of death and setting aside that reality when we need a break from its weight. All that is important in these times is that there is a sense of freedom to reach out to one another, cry together, lament the times, laugh at the jokes, scream the hearts out. And that there are no rules to how we grieve and no directives that vigour our emotions.
If the objective is addressing these emotional needs while acknowledging the significance of the lost loved one in your life, technology may not be the only tool you can use. Online forums can allow groups to share positive memories of the departed. Another way to deal with the loss is perhaps you can write a letter to the person who has just passed, or you and your family can agree to light a sky lantern separately, at common times. There is no one right way to be resilient and to grieve. We know ourselves and our exceptional, evolving needs that can be fulfilled by any means we wish to.
Alternatively, to acknowledge lost loved ones is to schedule services for later — possibly the one-year anniversary of their passing — when, hopefully, the COVID-19 pandemic will be under control and the social distancing limitations a thing of the past, but you don’t need to decide now, when the sense of loss is still fresh — in fact, it’s probably best you don’t. One day, when the world has hopefully moved past the COVID-19 pandemic, we may see the same sort of outpouring of community support for those affected.
Having had a personal experience of loss, I too did not escape this pandemic in any way. My grieving took me to isolation. Isolation from my heartache, from my only pillar I leaned on for life’s major and minor choices, isolation from the world that was, as it expurgated me through like an arrow, from the persons taking me back in to the times I never wanted to go for I only took pride in holding on to my sanity and defending the grief that belonged only to me. I realise that seclusion, loneliness and isolation was what I needed.
(Just a feeling to resonate with, for those who lost their loved ones in these hard times, I share your grief equally. If possible, recite a prayer for your loved ones lost and my father too.)