OPINION: Managing grief in times of COVID-19

OPINION: Managing grief in times of COVID-19

The sense of loss that accompanies COVID-19 is one that may not have been adequately expressed in words.

When the pandemic hit, it was followed by lockdowns across the world in a bid to contain the spread of infections.

But it is the loss that accompanied COVID-19 that continues to devastate many. People have lost family members, friends or work colleagues during this pandemic.

Personally, I have learned a lot about grief after having lost someone very close to me. l decided that I needed to understand more about how to grieve.

This desire was also fueled by the fact that those who have lost loved ones now occupy an unfortunate position where no one is able or even allowed to condole with them.

Understanding grief

Out of my personal experience, I joined an online group therapy session that was held weekly for five weeks.

It was organized by a Pastor Mueni Wambua who helps people deal with grief.

I learned that in our culture, admitting that you need help is often deemed as a sign of weakness and grief is not just about losing loved ones but also about loss of jobs, opportunities, livelihoods; the list is endless.

Because of the lockdowns resulting from COVID-19, businesses shut down and thousands, if not millions, were declared jobless and with sudden joblessness comes painful times of deprivation.

All of this was and is happening in the background of unprecedented death tolls worldwide.

Over the past few months, amidst the devastation of the COVID-19 pandemic, l have had to condole with frustrated and traumatized friends who buried their loved ones amidst stringent measures.

Some friends whose funeral cultures encompass open-casket viewing were denied the chance to do so because at the time, Health Ministry protocols barred mourners from getting close to the body. This was traumatizing.

Only later did the government relax burial protocols in line with revised World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines.

It is devastating to imagine the trauma that was experienced by those who were denied the right to view the body of their departed loved ones. This sequence of events led to fresh uproar.

Disenfranchised grief

What l have found astounding in this journey is that most people are experiencing disenfranchised grief.

Prof. Jane Fisher, an academic clinical and health psychologist at Monash University describes disenfranchised grief as experiences of loss which might not be recognized by the person or by others.

In an article titled With all our Lives Changing because of Coronavirus, you could be experiencing disenfranchised grief, she says: “The process can be more difficult because unrecognized losses tend not to attract increased social support or public ceremonies or rituals.”

In other words, grief slips through the cracks and since no one pays attention, those that experience it feel isolated with some to the point of committing suicide because of the depression that accompanies it.

Pastor Mueni says sometimes when grief is not properly dealt with, it manifests as anger towards those around you when you lash out.

And Prof. Fisher’s sentiments are similar as she avers that these experiences can be isolating and induce powerlessness, rather than problem-solving ability that is needed to reduce the psychological pain.

Towards the right direction

Dr Brene Brown, a research professor who has spent over two decades studying courage, vulnerability, shame and empathy, was recently hosted by Hollywood actress Jada Pinkett-Smith on her Red Table Talk Facebook Live show.

The American don described vulnerability as having the courage to show up and be seen even when we have no control of the outcome.

Jonathan Ishoy, Purdue CAPS Staff Therapist also notes that the only cure for grief is to grieve.

In an article on purdue.edu, he writes that: ‘During this crisis it is important to grieve what has been lost, and it is important to find meaning and hope in how life has changed.”

He urges people to find a ‘why to live’ during such an unsettling time as the COVID-19 era.

On her part, Pastor Mueni says: “Don’t compare your journey of handling whatever loss it is, with anybody else’s. That comparison can cause a lot of hurt.” It is therefore prudent to remember that no two journeys look alike.

And Prof. Fisher adds: “Solutions are generally easier to find when you discuss it with someone who can be empathetic and suggest ideas.”

The writer Maria Wanza is a Communications Consultant and Actress as well as a member of the Association of Media Women in Kenya (AMWIK) and the Africa Women’s Development and Communication Network (FEMNET).


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