I am finally writing after three months. Mid-April, I watched in horror from the sidelines as my social media erupted into anguished cries for help – oxygen, medicines, ambulances, hospital beds – even last rites. India was fast spiraling into a hell hole with the onset of the deadly second wave of Covid. Sitting in Almaty, I followed the news coming from India, feeling helpless, barely being able to do anything. I was working on a blog that time and suddenly everything seemed meaningless. What could I write that could be useful to people struggling for basic necessities – for life itself. So, I fell silent. But the anger built up. The anguish came out in the form of a scathing blog, critical of the Govt. and its role in this devastation. But I stopped myself from publishing it – a lot had already been written about India’s mishandling of the situation. And besides, my blog is meant for people – to touch, inspire, encourage and heal them. I shelved it and didn’t feel like writing anything else either.
Now, it is heartening to see the second wave recede and return of some sense of normalcy. But the fear of the third wave still lurks in many a heart. And those that suffered during the last few months still have a vaccum within them. A wound that will take time to heal. Even those who didn’t lose their loved ones but went through the harrowing ordeal will take time to overcome the sense of helplessness, feelings of frustration and anger. As mental health blogger Priyanka Joshi notes, grieving in the pandemic had multiple dimensions – there is a sense of isolation and lack of closure. With multiple and extended lockdowns, social distancing, and limits on gatherings, grieving has not been easy. When my husband’s cousin lost his father due to Covid, they could not even see him one last time as his body was cremated by the Govt. authorities. None of the family could go and visit the bereaved.
The same happened with Shampa, whose dad unexpectedly passed away during the first lockdown. Not only could she not attend her father’s funeral, she could not even perform any of the rituals at home because a priest couldn’t visit due to restrictions. Months later when travel resumed, she was able to visit her mother and bring her home with her. It has been more than a year, but Shampa is still coming to terms with the loss.
This year, as the second wave started to raise its head, Shampa and her entire family fell sick. Within a week, the situation spiraled out of control and first her father-in-law, then her mother-in-law and husband had to be admitted to the hospital, while she tried to manage everything alone from home. Soon after, she lost both her in laws on the same day, in different hospitals. A month later, she also lost her brother-in-law to Covid, the only one allowed to perform the last rites, and likely caught the deadly disease there. Shampa and her husband are now dealing with the loss of three family members, survivor’s guilt and the trauma they went through as a family. And they are not alone. Thousands of families across the country went through a similar ordeal, losing one or more family members. They are grieving today, slowly making their way back to normalcy.
It is only when one has gone through grief that they can even begin to understand what it is to grieve and heal. I am not a stranger to grief and had my own share a few years ago when first my infant was diagnosed with a form of brain damage and then a year later my father passed away unexpectedly.
Today I want to share some of my own learnings as well as from others who have gone through the process – if even one person feels comforted by reading this, I will be gratified.
My grief may be different from yours – Much has been talked about the five stages of grief but it is important to know that not everyone may go through all the stages nor in the same order. It is important to acknowledge that everyone has their own way of dealing with grief and that no way is right or wrong – each of us goes through our own process and there is no set pattern of how to grieve or heal. Some people may always want to talk about their grief, others may prefer holding on to it. Some may heal fast, others may take years. Don’t be pressured to ‘stay strong’ or ‘overcome your grief’ because a certain amount of time has passed.
Don’t be afraid of feeling your pain – We have been taught to ‘stay brave, stay in control’ through tough times. However, staying brave is often misinterpreted as holding back one’s emotions, avoiding confronting them. It is okay to let the pain take over, it is okay to succumb. You may not be comfortable showing your emotions outwardly, but don’t hide them from yourself. Let the tears flow. Don’t be afraid to feel. Unless you feel it, you cannot heal it.
I find it extremely tough to shed tears in front of anyone. I didn’t cry at my dad’s funeral, my voice never broke while conducting his memorial meeting. But I cried while sharing my pain through my blog, I cried in airplanes, I cried when no one could see. I let the pain wash over me, take hold of me. It took almost two years of ‘breaking down at the slightest reminder of him’ before the pain receded….it will never go away, but it will loosen its hold over you if you give in to it.
So, don’t hold back your grief, for unless you go through the process of grieving, healing cannot begin. Healing begins only after grieving, only after you have processed the loss/ grief through your system.
Reach out, don’t isolate yourself – Grieving can sometimes feel like a very lonely process. You may feel that no one around you understands what you are going through. Grief need not be isolating. Reach out to people close to you. Try to surround yourself with people who can support you emotionally, physically. Talk to your co-grievers. Share your feelings. Talk about the person or the situation.
However, some people (like me!), sometimes find it difficult to share pain with people close to them. There are many support groups online – I had joined a Facebook group for people who had lost their parents. There is comfort in sharing grief with people who have gone through similar experiences.
A fellow alumnus, Sharada Subramaniam has been hosting a weekly session called the Listening Circle since the start of the second wave of Covid. It is a platform to give voice to Covid survivors, caregivers, health warriors and bereaved family members to come together and share their experiences and offer each other support and comfort. After listening to many people share their stories, she firmly believes that the best way to ease your pain is to share it with others. Many people have found the experience therapeutic.
If none of that works, try to reach out for individual counselling.
Please take care of yourself – I know it is difficult to think of yourself in your grief. But self-care during grief is important because grief does not just affect your emotional health – it has a strong effect on your physical health too. Fatigue, nausea, loss of appetite, a lower immunity, insomnia, body aches and pains are all symptoms of grief.
In fact, self-care has become even more important during Covid – whole families fell sick at the same time – with those with less severe disease caring for the ones more serious – or managing hospital stays. Shampa was one of the first to get sick in her family of 7 but within days found herself not only having to care for herself, but manage the family, hunt around for hospitals as others needed intensive care. All through this traumatic time, Shampa also had to make sure that she herself recovered from the disease and did not succumb to the feelings of desperation and exhaustion that threatened to overpower her.
Let go of your guilt – Grief counsellor Suzy Singh says that the one difficulty most grievers find hard to battle with is ‘guilt’. “Could I have done something differently? Maybe I didn’t try enough? Could I have saved her?” and this guilt has gone up multifold in the second wave of Covid when people were running pillar to post trying to find hospital beds, oxygen, medicines etc. for their loved ones. Fellow blogger, Daisy Bala, lost her mother to Covid during the unforgiving second wave. Based in USA, Daisy was not even able to come see her mother in her last days of immense pain and suffering. She recalls, “I could hear her over phone fading with each passing day, unable to eat, talk, sleep. When she passed, my world came crashing down. It became blank, wet with tears and pain. The pain of not being able to attend to her, when she needed me the most. The agony of letting her go so easily entrapped me for several days.”
And then there is also survivor’s guilt – those who also caught the virus and survived while their dear one lost their life. “Why did I deserve to live when they died?”
If you are struggling with guilt, first of all, understand and accept it. Forgive yourself. It is a normal emotion – a part of the grieving process. It is very common to wish and hope that there was something someone or we could have done to have a different outcome. And that’s when we start to blame ourselves. Whether our guilt is rational or not, our grieving mind is unable to process that. So, the first thing is to understand your guilt, be aware of it, and notice when those feelings come in. It is important to do this, because that’s the only way we can avoid being dragged into the bottomless pit of guilt.
As a mother of a special needs child, I am very familiar with guilt, though in a different context. I have often wondered about what more could I have done to have carried my twins longer – even just a few days or weeks more – Anvay would probably have been fine then. Sometimes I have even blamed myself for the decision of having an IVF baby – which is what resulted in a twin pregnancy and consequently a pre-term delivery. However, rationalizing the guilt helps pull me back from this thought process and focus on my child’s progress.
Connect with the departed soul – Many people find solace in the belief that death is just the soul’s way of changing bodies and that the departed are still with us, around us. My friend Rachita, who lost her mother, firmly believes this. She feels connected to her, talks to her, seeks answers. She puts it very nicely, “We need to be willing to embrace the truth and still believe that they are actually with us, you have to believe that you can hug them, kiss them. You can talk to them. Trust me you will find answers, it will take time and the answers won’t come to you in their voice, but you will get them”
Some people write letters to their loved ones, some convert their belongings into something special, others create memory books, collages and so on. One day, I hope to be able to share my dad’s beliefs with the world, via this blog.
Find meaning, channelize your pain – The process of healing can also be a process for self reflection, realization. Daisy realized that if she didn’t channelize her pain, it would drown her completely. Hence, she decided to pursue her writing again. She says, “my mum was my biggest inspiration, hence I wrote and published my book, dedicating it to her. She continues to thrive within me through her inspiring words of wisdom” she goes on to say, “I want to pursue the dreams my mum had so lovingly carved for me. She is and will always continue to be my biggest inspiration in life. Her immense love for me, motivates me to live further.”
For Shampa, the death of her brother in law came as a rude shock. Due to Covid, she had shut down her pre-school and had since been procrastinating on starting work again. The suddenness of his demise and the realization that it could as easily have been her or her husband, forced her into action. She is now preparing to launch her own designer label of painted sarees. Focusing on her work is helping her process and channel her grief.
Heal from within – we all know how easy it is to say, “I am okay”, when in reality we are far from it. And there are many reasons we do that. We are tired of showing our grief, we don’t want any more sympathy, we are worried people will think we have gone on too long in grief or we may be worried of coming across as weak. And all these reasons are valid. But what is important is that we heal from within. Loss of a loved one leaves a gaping hole in our lives – one that cannot be filled easily.
When we are able to find meaning, motivation, love and kindness, we start to heal. Delve within, connect with yourself, your feelings. Yoga, meditation and many other techniques can help calm the mind. Some, like Daisy tap into their inner creativity – paint, write, sing. Give yourself time – walk, exercise, breathe in fresh air.
Understand your grief. Welcome it. Embrace it. Process it through your being to heal. Become whole again.
I am dedicating this post to my colleague and friend who lost her husband and in laws to the deadly second wave and to everyone who lost a loved one during these trying times. You are in my prayers and may you have and your family have the strength to deal with your loss. My love and prayers are with you.
Thanks so much for reading! Please comment, share and spread the word!
Regards, Sakshi aka tripleamommy
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