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?
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.