The last couple of months saw us grappling with the second wave of Covid-19. As we struggle to keep ourselves together, the umpteenth news of the loss of kin or non-kin and the social media obituaries have crumbled even the toughest amongst us. Personally, it made me draw parallels between the ways I tried mitigating the pain of losing my parents 15 years ago and comprehending grief in a relatively aware social space of today. I spoke with mental health advocates to gain a better perspective on the same.
While we wish to stay protected from experiencing bereavement, the humbling instances of life and death string us together in relatable situations. Yet, no two people grieve the loss of the same person in the same way. The pain can feel heavy or hollow, everything and nothing, all at the same time. Psychologist Bhavya Kulshreshtha says, “The stages of grief — denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance are not felt in a linear model. Rather, we may visit and revisit these experiences several times. The right to grieve is each person’s right to respond to loss in their own way and time, and be respected through the journey.” Ayushi Khemka, Co-founder of Mental Health Talks India, adds, “All of us can deal with death and support our loved ones in mourning without having to invalidate each other’s ways of grieving. My grief need not make sense to you for you to be there for me.”
Normalising Disenfranchised Grief
Society ends up categorising grief as disenfranchised in some situations and disregard non-kin relationships. The loss of a friend, colleague, or neighbour can be as big a loss as losing a parent or sibling. Ayushi adds, “We need to do away with the hierarchisation of grief. Looking at relationships that anyway do not get social sanction, for instance, same-sex or inter-faith relationships, grieving tends to be more difficult. And, the disenfranchisement of it makes it worse. Further, we need to recognise grief of all kinds. The end of a relationship, the onset of a mental illness can be events in one’s life that make a person grieve. We don’t get to decide who grieves for what and how much. We don’t have to put grieving individuals on competing pedestals.”
Navigating Emotions Through Social Media
How far has social media impacted the course of processing grief in the pandemic? — we ask. “Things like community and rituals used to anchor people and made grief a little less heavy and lonely. The pandemic has made it hard to access these spaces, and people are separated from the support, which makes it even worse. On the one hand, some have found solace to connect over shared experiences on social media; on the other, it has projected us to the news of loss, pain and suffering in abundance. There is a psychological impact of such devastation that most of us, if not all, are living with,” points out Bhavya.
Dealing With Counter-Productive Condolences
Healing is a lifelong journey that involves the support of the community, but there could be instances when one might be projected to platitudes in the form of condolences from close quarters. Bhavya explains, “Telling a person in grief to move on, distract themselves or how they could have done things differently, etc., negates the process of healing. In such scenarios, don’t be afraid to set boundaries and protect your peace. Know that you don’t have to be in a hurry to fix your feelings or move on. Focus on nourishing your body and getting rest. Allow yourself to take one day at a time. Seek support from those who do understand.”
Reaching Out For Help
The essence of healing lies in the process of allowing oneself to experience the emotional upheaval rather than fighting it out. “If you feel like you would want support on your grief journey, you can access it any time that you want to. There is no ‘extent’ of things needing to be ‘bad enough’ for you to seek support from a professional. If you think that a safe, non-judgemental space would help you in coping with the loss, reach out to a therapist. Though a therapeutic space doesn’t guarantee to take the pain away, it assures to hold space for your feelings and honour them,” shares Bhavya.
Further, friends and family need to be supportive in practical ways, adds Ayushi, “For instance, helping out with insurance forms and other paperwork, arranging groceries, delivering food, there are many ways to show up in solidarity.”