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How To Redefine Healing Amidst The Pandemic Grief

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By Anushka Arora (Member, Creative Team)

In 1969, Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, a Swiss psychiatrist, talked about five distinct stages of grief after the loss of a loved one. These include denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance (Ross, 1969). The ongoing pandemic has exposed us to the world’s worst health emergency in over 100 years and adversities that we never expected in our entire lifetime. With the staggering number of deaths and utter collapse of the state, how has the nature of grief changed? How has the meaning evolved? How do we cope with it?

woman covering face

Grieving in the current times has become much more complicated. The stages of grief are no longer limited to a personal journey. It has largely shifted towards the socio-cultural context and how our state has failed us from an individualized approach.

Friedman and James (2008) expressed the concern that mental health professionals and the general public’s interpretation of grief as following a set pattern might create more harm than good. A specified stage often confuses people and how they feel about their emotional reactions. The varied dimensions of grief are constantly evolving in current times, with no particular guideline being fit for any individual or relationship.

We are not only just grieving but also moving back and forth to feel so much at once. There’s anger, fear, confusion, uncertainty, desperation and helplessness and much about how our society functions have changed drastically. As ‘social beings’ who lived a life with constant interaction and social engagement, we suddenly had to follow strict social distancing policies.

It has been more than a year since this contagious virus crept into our lives and changed our perception of humanity for generations to come. The unpredictability with which we now tread every day is a testimony to how our sense of control has been challenged at all levels. There are no imminent signs of an ending.

Grieving is a time like this is also unique because there is too much of it, which further adds to its complexity. We are not just grieving normalcy but also an avalanche of losses- family members, unemployment, financial constraints, changing relationships, and things we took for granted. Amidst all this, we are also grieving about how we have completely succumbed to the mercy of the state’s apathy.

While the statistics of recorded deaths have surpassed more than three lakhs, these figures do not entirely capture the grave sight of collective trauma experienced by the citizens at large. There are headlines about people out in the streets begging for resources, loved ones promising their family members about taking them back home knowing they never will, and broken hearts who could never even bid a farewell. How do we move on from images of people dying on roads? How do we get over the lingering regret of not being able to give a proper cremation to our loved ones? How do we console people who are losing family members day by day?

At this point, every narrative seems too personal, and every story feels close to home. There’s guilt for not being able to save your loved one despite putting in all efforts, and there is a shame for being the cause of someone’s death. We are constantly torn in ‘what-ifs’ and how things could have been different if dealt with in an alternative manner. Human misery has intensified the yearnings for physical touch, which is no longer accessible.

We can no longer make use of physical gestures to hold spaces of warmth and gesture because of how this era demands us to be.
A lot of people seek answers to questions like- how to help somebody who has lost a loved one? What kind of words to use to be able to comfort them? Our ‘saviour complex’ often tricks us into providing immediate solutions to their problems.

We are socially programmed to get rid of the awkwardness and try too hard to restore the person’s well-being. However, nobody teaches us to learn to sit with someone’s helplessness. Being there for them in its truest form means accepting the feelings of ‘void’ rather than trying to fill the spaces on their behalf. Asking the person, “Is there any way I can help you?” or “Do you want me to be with you right now?” can serve as positive affirming actions.

It is important to remember the intensity with which we can feel overwhelmed and how it swings back and forth on a spectrum. The process of meaning-making is farfetched, as we are still registering and trying to label our emotions. The emotional unpreparedness and the unexpectedness of deaths have now become our reality, petrifies us, and constantly reminds us of the disparities that continue to exist in terms of accessibility and availability of resources.

To propagate the idea of positivity and productivity is not only being indifferent to our suffering but also pressurizes us to conduct ourselves in a certain way. One can no longer find peace when the pyres continue to burn, sirens of ambulances trigger us, more families are left distraught, communities collapse and children are left orphaned. Till the time we wake up every day to the crumpled state of affairs and government’s failure, the grieving won’t stop.

The sad truth of millions of families will continue to prevail even when the pandemic is over. The only way to cope is through remembrance and honouring our grief by accepting it. This is not the time to look for immediate solutions but to understand the importance of enduring our pain. No amount of distractions, ‘move on’ or ‘everything happens for a reason can help us. Grief is cyclical; it will keep coming back to us and remind us of what we lost on different occasions. To be able to encourage ourselves and understand how to sit with our feelings is an act of bravery and self-care in itself.

References:

  1. Daneker, D., & Cashwell, C. (2005). Grief Counseling: A Review of the Literature. Online Submission.
  2. Evershed, M. (2020, July 9). Reading the Literature of Grief During a Pandemic. The New Republic. https://newrepublic.com/article/158413/reading-literature-grief-pandemic.
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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

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A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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