This was a terrible time last year, the death toll from COVID-19 has been rising since it began in early 2020, peaking in the Philippines around September with the deadly Delta strain.
COVID-19 has created a new awareness of the death and suffering that afflicts the living left behind. Mainstream media, much more so in the US and Europe, I find, is running more and more articles about grief, painful yet elusive.
COVID-19 deaths have been more challenging because of the way they separated people. Patients with severe COVID-19 infections have been isolated from their loved ones, sometimes with relatives who have not been informed of what is happening.
Stories of COVID-19 deaths and deaths have often revolved around the ventilator; Once bound to a patient, it was considered ominous, even an act of finality. An American researcher who interviewed families who lost loved ones to COVID-19, involving a ventilator towards the end, found several resorted to spirit mediums to contact the deceased, who were so abruptly separated from the living by COVID-19 were cut off.
Reading this made me wonder if something similar happened in the Philippines where many believe it is possible to communicate with the dead.
Cultures around the world have modified their death rituals in response to COVID-19. In the first few weeks of the pandemic, fears of contagion from the dead were exaggerated but led to severe restrictions on wakes and funerals.
It later became clear that contagion to the living was more real because the virus was airborne. This still meant that wakes and funerals had to be limited, and for the Philippines this was very problematic given our penchant for extended rituals with as many participants as possible.
Online rituals were becoming the norm and I wrote about that last year, appreciating their value but warning that the extremely lengthy rituals (imagine the nine consecutive online novenas, each lasting three or four hours) could be tiring for relatives and other participants.
The big question here: do these modified rituals, especially online rituals, bring “closure”?
I doubt it, and with the eulogies I’m supposed to give, especially for deaths among other educators, I always remind people that even in better times we can have a memorial service knowing that online services will make it easy not create conditions of closure.
The need for closure was often linked to a five-step theory that has been proposed around grief (and also for cancer): Denial, Anger, Negotiation, Depression, Acceptance.
But if you search the internet, you’ll find that there are a growing number of studies challenging this assumption that we need a “closure” around death and going to the basics of challenging the five-step theory .
Nancy Berns wrote in The Conversation that the need for “closure” after death was created by the funeral industry to sell its products, and that the increasing pressure to make people feel closed is leading to further isolation of the bereaved .
Her advice is to let people embrace a range of emotions rather than urging them to “be happy” and “move forward.” Listen more when people express these emotions. People respond to grief differently, sometimes because of individual personality differences and sometimes because of the way culture “teaches” us to grieve. The Japanese, for example, are known to be much more repressive of grief, as they consider it shameful to express grief publicly. We Filipinos, on the other hand, are more inclined towards almost hysterical expressions of mourning.
What is challenged is not the names of the five stages of grief, but the idea that they are linear, one leading to the next until you reach acceptance (and closure).
Not everyone will go through all the stages, certainly not in any particular order. The type of relationship we had with the deceased, the circumstances of the death, and the circumstances of our own lives are all important as well.
We move on, with or without a degree, and along the way we may find that grief has returned, only to be gone again. We certainly feel this on All Saints’ Day as well as on the anniversaries of death and birthdays. Grief need not be feared; Think of it as a necessary accompaniment to joy, gratitude, and other strong emotions.[email protected]
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