“Those we love never truly leave us. There are things that death cannot touch us.” -Jack Thorne
Grief is a personal experience and process, whereas mourning is how grief and loss are shown in public. Although Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, a Swiss-American psychiatrist, pioneer in near-death studies and author of the internationally acclaimed book On Death and Dying, theorized that we go through five distinct stages of grief after the loss of a loved one: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and finally acceptance, grief from my own personal experience feels more like a roller coaster, with ups and downs.
A person grieving may feel better for a while, only to become sad again. Sometimes, people wonder how long the grieving process will last, and when they can expect some relief. There’s no answer to this question, but some of the factors that affect the intensity and length of grieving are one’s relationship with the person who dies, the circumstances of their deaths, and one’s own life experiences.
Since the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, the majority of us have experienced some sense of loss. With the virus claiming lives in an indiscriminate fashion across the globe, unfortunately, several of us have incurred loss at a personal level, whereas for the others it has impacted the sense of community, finances, or an important facet of everyday functioning.
I lost my beloved mother to Covid last year and a few months later, I lost my brother’s father-in-law, who was a father figure to me. At least for me the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic has altered my perception regarding the holiday season as I still go through recurrent pangs of grief when thinking about my mother or my brother’s father-in-law.
All of us grieve differently. The grieving process doesn’t follow any timelines or schedules. We might cry, become angry, withdraw or feel empty. Grief hits you at different levels. On Black Friday when I went to an outlet for customary shopping, I couldn’t garner the courage to buy anything. The self-imposed restrictions were not tied to me being stingy or facing financial constraints but related to seeing any black-colored coat or fleece. My mother, a selfless person, was always concerned about others’ well-being. She loved to wear and gift others black-colored outerwear.
Memories attached to emotions are strong. Over Thanksgiving break my sister-in-law shared a message that a close relative had shared with her that drew similarities between her mother and mine. This created a huge wave of grief for me but on the same token, I felt relieved that my sister-in-law, a very pragmatic but highly empathetic individual had imbibed the values that my mother wanted to promulgate. That message coupled with my experiences from having known my sister-in-law and poignantly from last year when my sister-in-law and I rushed to my native place, Dehradun, India, to support my ailing mother, brought tears to my eyes. I am fully cognizant of the basis since she was my mother but putting on my professional hat, I would say my mother’s willingness to help others in dire need surpassed most I have come across.
Another touching moment for me this Thanksgiving was my brother sharing a story regarding his colleague who was published in the Washington Post in March 2021. I read the story and it resonated with me as it hit home. The Covid-19 pandemic had created losses at multiple levels, whether it be creating orphans or widows. I can sense the loneliness and vulnerability in my 80-year-old father, who once flagged a sense of individual autonomy. Research indicates that men tend to experience worse outcomes when their spouse dies abruptly because they lose their primary source of social support. On the other hand, women appear to experience worse outcomes when a lengthy illness precedes their partner’s death due to chronic stress, such as cancer.