Dealing with COVID induced grief and loss

Dealing with COVID induced grief and loss

Samindara Sawant

Growing up, we had only heard stories of apocalypse. The COVID-19 pandemic gave us an actual taste of it. None of us ever thought we would, in our lifetime, experience a pandemic of this proportion. A disaster that would bring the world to a standstill, and make humanity fall on its knees.

Yet, here we are, 2.5 years after the pandemic started its deadly spread, picking up the pieces of our lives, and trying to go back to ‘normalcy’. In this period, we have experienced the so-called new-normal, adapted to it, and lived through so many versions of the new normal, as life has slowly started circling back to pre-pandemic times. Many things have already gone back to pre-pandemic times, while many others have changed forever.

One of the hardest things that we have been left to deal with is the loss of our loved ones. Especially the ones we lost during those brutal ‘waves’ of infection that did not even allow access for the usual grieving process. This grief has impacted us all, individually as well as collectively.

Loss of someone we love to death is not a new phenomenon for humanity. In fact, death is an inevitable outcome, and at some level, we all know it. Yet, anyone who has experienced the death of a loved one will agree that knowledge of the inevitability of death does not prepare us for the pain and the grief that follows.

So, in a way, grief is also not new to humanity. Yet, the losses we suffered due to Covid were even more brutal, even more difficult to accept and deal with, and there are several reasons for it.

Personal loss in the backdrop of collective loss

Everywhere around us, we could see people dying. Whomever we spoke to had lost someone to Covid. Thus, there was anyway a layer of pain and grief that all of humanity was experiencing. And suddenly, when it was our turn, there was nothing in the social framework to hold and contain each successive dollop of sorrow that kept seeping in ceaselessly. It was as though the entire fabric of humanity was drenched in this pain and sorrow, and there was no comfort to be had anywhere.

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No opportunity to say ‘goodbye’

For many of us, the last we saw of our loved ones was when they left for the hospitals or Covid care centres. There was no opportunity to see them or be with them when they breathed their lost, nor after their death. It gave us no opportunity to say our ‘goodbyes’, and thus come to terms with the inevitability of their deaths. So many of us kept waiting for the reality to sink in, but because we were deprived of an opportunity for closure, the sense of shock persisted.

No access to customs and rituals

Due to the strict restrictions, we were unable to practice most of the standard rituals around death and grieving that are part and parcel of our culture, and that play such an important part in the grieving process. The rituals are often-times a soothing balm, and provide a much needed, socially acceptable outlet to our sorrow, but we were unable to engage in any of the rituals.

Inability to access social support

Perhaps one of the hardest things to deal with was not being able to lean on the emotional and moral support of loved ones during our moments of pain and sorrow. People could not be there for us, in person, no matter how much they would have wanted to. We had to do it all alone, or with only our immediate family members, who were all going through the same pain and loss. While things have now started looking up, while the world has now slowly found ways to live with Covid, so many of us still carry within us the desolation and despair brought about by our own personal loss to Covid.

Yes, we may have moved ahead on many levels, but that kernel of sorrow is lodged firmly within us, and comes up at unexpected times.

With the immediate aftermath of the sorrow behind us, with life coming back to ‘normal’ are there ways in which we can yet heal ourselves, give ourselves the space to feel all those feelings and emotions that could not be processed when that pain was raw? Yes, there are!

A few tips

Find ways to tell your story: Talk to people you know and care about, write or journal about your loss, express yourself through creative outlets (such as dancing, music, movement), whatever is comfortable to you. Let the story be expressed. Your mind as well as your body is still holding the grief, it needs expression.

Practice self compassion: Self-compassion is defined as being kind and understanding to one’s self in times of suffering, failure, or when we feel inadequate. Be sure to practice kindness and tolerance towards yourself, especially when thoughts or feelings of guilt come up, or when you find yourself wondering whether you did all you could to save the person you lost, whether you were good enough, loving enough, caring enough to the person. Remind yourself that you are an imperfect human being, but you were doing your best. Being compassionate to yourself is one of the hardest things for us, yet, we must find a way to do that.

Keep the window of connection open: Death is a physical and permanent separation, yet, what we shared with that person is eternal. The relationship, and that person, has a permanent place in your life, and death can’t take that away. So, find a way to allow the person to live on in your life. It could be small symbolic gestures, like conversing with that person every night, or looking at their photograph every morning, or continuing a ritual that you had with them … anything that helps you feel connected and close to them.

Contrary to what some may believe, it will help you to move on in your life, while still carrying that person forever in your heart.

Talk to a therapist: If your grief continues to overwhelm you and is like a permanent heavy stone on your heart, if you are simply unable to have moments of relief, then it is time to seek professional help. Taking therapy does not make you weak, it makes you smart. At times, there may be unresolved issues in your past, or in the relationship, that come up forcefully after the death of a loved one. That can stop you from moving on. That is the time to reach out and talk to someone who can help you make sense of it.

Finally, remember that grief is like an ocean, with waves that ebb and flow. As Vicki Harrison has stated, ‘sometimes the water is calm, and sometimes it is overwhelming. All we can do is learn to swim.’ We need to find a way to ride the crests and troughs of our grief, allowing ourselves to immerse in the pain, yet finding a way to keep coming up.