The trauma of long-distance mourning

As the second wave of corona pandemic rips apart India, almost every family we know is dealing with a personal loss. Of the untimely death of an otherwise healthy person. The sudden onslaught of this virus, which we now know mutates and returns in new variants or avatars to demolish lives, is now making the once proud, efficient and modern Indian healthcare system look like some glorified PHC. However harsh this may sound, this is exactly how it appears to the relatives of those struggling to breathe and gasping for oxygen, but are turned away from umpteen hospitals. Forget sparing a bed, as the pandemic assumed monstrous proportions with our daily infection rate crossing the 4 lakh-mark, hospitals in Delhi, Mumbai, Bengaluru, Chennai etc were unable to provide adequate oxygen support to their patients. Leave alone those waiting for oxygen support and a bed outside hospitals, some of even those who were already admitted and on oxygen support, died because a couple of hospitals ran out of this lifesaving commodity.

The Rotary News Trust family was not spared either. My team member Chithra lost her husband; he was only 48 and had a secure job with the Tamil Nadu government. She now faces the grim prospect of being a single parent to her college-going son. K Viswanathan lost his mother, and Pratheesh lost his father. All the three, whose lives were so cruelly snuffed out by the Covid virus, were otherwise perfectly healthy. I am sure most of you will be mourning the loss of a loved one during this horrific period.

But a bizarre fallout of death due to the coronavirus and amidst lockdown and sealing of borders, between countries and even states, is people being forced to grieve long distance. And pay their last respects to their dearest ones on Zoom meetings. Thousands of Indians living in Australia, Canada, US and other countries which have closed their borders to India, who have lost a parent/parents, siblings, uncles, nephews, nieces and the dearest of friends back home, have faced the agony of being unable to come down to physically bid goodbye to a loved one. And we are not the only ones caught in this bind.

One of my most favourite writers, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, finds the most expressive and gut-wrenching words to express her grief at the passing away of her father last June, through her latest, short book Notes on Grief. He was in their hometown in Nigeria, she in the US. The borders were closed due to the lockdown; on June 7, he was just fine and by June 10 he was gone.

“I was undone. Needle pricks of resentment flood through me at the thought of people who are more than 88 years old, older than my father and alive and well. My anger scares me, my fear scares me, and somewhere in there is shame, too — why am I so enraged and so scared? I am afraid of going to bed and of waking up, afraid of tomorrow and all the tomorrows after. How is it that the world keeps going, breathing in and out unchanged, while in my soul there is a permanent scattering? I am stuck in America, my frustration like a blister, scouring for news on when the Nigerian airports will open. Even the Nigerian authorities don’t seem to know.”

Read Adichie’s Notes on Grief if you can… it will help you cope with yours.

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Rasheeda Bhagat

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