Covid’s second wave has receded, but the month of April 2021 shall remain freshly etched in memory. When India was reporting more than 4 lakh cases per day, WhatsApp was filled with desperate requests seeking help and the Facebook wall seemed to be an obituary timeline. Covid’s second wave that presented the worst situation of chaos and crisis has left us all affected in some way or other. Those who have lost their loved ones are not only struggling to cope with grief but regrets and what-ifs too. What if we had got a bed on time that day? What if the test could have been done and reports received timely? What if we had started with this medicine at the right time? What if we could have managed to arrange for oxygen? And the list goes on. The pinch of helplessness where you were ready to pay for the services to get the best treatment for your loved one, but you lost him /her because of the scarcity of medical resources and sheer collapse of the system seems haunting. Coping with grief in such times has become complex and nerve-wracking when deaths have become more normalized than living.
In people experiencing grief, it is manifesting in its most common reactions like shock, denial, anxiety, distress, anger, and periods of sadness which is further worsened in some cases when coupled with economic challenges social constraints. Having lost my father most unexpectedly recently within a span of 10 days of illness, I can relate to how the whole world seems empty with the missing of that ‘one’ person. It’s said that time heals all wounds. No, it doesn’t, we just learn to live with it. Like the ocean waves it keeps flowing inwards overwhelming the mind with memories; then back to the sea only to come back flowing in again. Like the child who keeps making footprints and drawings on the beach knowing the wave is going to wash it the next moment; perhaps we never get over the loss of losing a parent or a loved one. We just learn to handle our broken pieces and keep rebuilding ourselves in the process of becoming.
How to cope with bereavement & grief in a healthy way:
Grief somehow kicks in a struggle to re-establish equilibrium in one’s life post the loss. We are often told that Grief is the price we pay for love. The intention should be to make grief one’s anchor, not a weight on shoulders that comes in way of one’s responsibilities. This is not easy, but some pointers below can be beneficial.
1) Take your time to heal. There can be no set pattern to how you choose to grieve, individually in silence, talking to someone in whom you can confide honestly, in the company of those sharing similar grief or in any other way that brings you a sense of composure and peace. Stay true to your spirit and give yourself the time and space to heal and be.
2) Remember death is inevitable. One reality that is common to all living creatures, is that we all, have to taste death. It is for this reason we see Muslims comforting a bereaved person with a commonly recited Qur’anic verse that means “To Almighty God we belong, and to Him is our return.” If the sudden death of loved one is entangling you in what ifs; remind yourself that the person you loved has gone but you still have choice with your response. Respond if you must, but let it be constructive. Psychiatrist Dr Elisabeth Kubler-Ross in one of the best-known five stage grief theory identifies denial anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance as the key ‘stages’ our minds go through after someone dies. So, if it’s happening with you, remember its normal and okay. Sometimes it’s okay to not feel okay and often tough times come to introduce ourselves to our inner being and connect one to higher stages of becoming.
3) Don’t compare your pain with others. Be kind to yourself. Your mind may trick you with punitive thoughts like – ‘she too lost her parent or sibling but has moved on. Why has my clock got stuck to that day? Why am I not able to come to terms with this pain?’ Don’t punish yourself by comparing your grief with others in similar situation. Appreciate individual differences, you never know how another person may be coping with their loss. Rather, thank God for the gift of that person, who has left you with such countless beautiful memories, that he/she is still present in spite of being physically absent.
4) Use your pain for the reconstruction of meaning or as a way to Falah. Pain is something we strive to remove and resolve but sometimes it can provide the avenue to self-transformation for the better and life enriching post traumatic growth. Neimeyer and Sands in their research emphasize that apart from cognitive, social, cultural, and spiritual consequences; grief can serve to make one question ‘who we are’ and set in motion a new way of looking and experiencing the world. The ‘reconstruction of meaning’ model of grief suggests how grief can assist one in ‘meaning-making’, through assimilating reality and adjusting to a loss. Finding meaning cannot erase ones ’grief for pain is a natural reaction to loss. However, it can aid in easing the despair helping one to move forward.
The death of a loved one can be deeply distressful but remember your response should not serve to break you but make you. Going by the Buddhist teaching, pain is inevitable, but suffering is not. Suffering arises from grasping. From the context of Islam, the way to ‘Falah’ or overcoming any form of grief with patience requires one to have ‘kalb of a momin’ (heart of a devout). Falah is the Arabic word for success, happiness, well-being and salvation. A ‘momin’ is one who considers this world as a temporary place (a tarbiyatgah) where he seeks to continuously strive for the betterment of character virtues with a desire to seek nearness to the creator. A momin’s unshakable faith in God is so immense that when good happens with him, he praises and thanks God, when misfortune befalls him, he patiently bears it with praise to God. This key attribute of a momin person referred to as ‘Tawakkul’ meaning having complete trust in God’s plan allows them to ‘let go’ of things beyond one’s control gracefully.
When struck by grief we have two choices to complain and be destructive or to use this brokenness for self-transformation, self-transcendence, gaining wisdom and nearness to our creator. Let the death of a loved one serve as a reminder of the temporariness of this world that inspire you to be more humane in the journey of life.
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