Covid-19 has raised death and grief to a new level. Social distancing protocols have made it impossible for many to say goodbye to their loved ones through traditional rituals.
Grief is the emotional response to a loss, whether through death or through other losses. We grieve missed opportunities as well: that goodbye that we could not say, the “I love you” that remained pending, the laughs that weren’t shared.
Although many experts speak of stages of mourning, Dr. Felipe Martínez Arronte, president of the Mexican Association of Thanatology, and a surgeon specializing in geriatrics, suggests tackling tasks, since grief is not an orderly cycle, but rather a process that happens in different ways for each person.
One of these tasks is to face our denial, and this is why it’s important to carry out the rituals we have that allow us to say goodbye. These are the very rituals which have become difficult to do with the current pandemic.
“Nowadays if the individual had Covid-19, isolation occurs before his departure, and sometimes people cannot see the body or cannot carry out the mourning processes and this can intensify the denial,” Dr. Martinez said.
So how do we do it? How do we mourn when funerals have a crowd limit? If we cannot gather to say goodbye?
This is when Day of the Dead becomes an opportunity to honor our dead in the safety of our homes. Covid-19 has made this tradition part of the mourning process not just for Mexicans, but for everyone around the globe who feels the need to say good bye to and celebrate the life of those who are not longer with us.
Along with the traditional decorations, pictures, food and drinks, Dr. Martinez recommends carrying out personal rituals, such as writing a farewell letter, speaking out loud a message out loud to the deceased, placing flowers on an altar, lighting a candle for them, or thinking of a special memory.
Although, Day of the Dead in Mexican culture has a special meaning and is celebrated on November 2nd, due to the restrictions of COVID-19, these rituals can be done at any time during the year.
Another important step for grieving is the expression of rage or anger, which can go hand in hand with deep sadness, in a way that sometimes goes unnoticed because we tend to repress anger.
“Anger is something difficult to overcome because we usually related it to guilt, we try to point fingers and blame either the medical personnel, our religion or even ourselves, but expressing that pain is necessary because it will help us to rationalize what really happened and leave that guilt behind,” said Dr. Martínez.
A sign that we are overcoming anger could be to start reviewing positive memories of the deceased, associate them with the beauty of nature, so we can feel some joy about it instead of only deep pain. According to Dr. Martinez, this allows us to be connected to the essence or our deceased loved one. Even though we are aware they are not physically by our side, we feel them with us.
Finally, regardless of the order in which we carry out these tasks, in the end there is always learning.
“Nobody comes out of the grief process being the same person, because by finding meaning in the existence of our loved one and in our bond with them, one takes the teachings and experiences of their lives and all the love they shared, and walks forward, ready to continue, being now a different person: a better person for it.”
Even though grief is an individual process, it is important to grieve with the companionship of family or friends. If grief lasts more than two years with the same intensity, it’s advisable to visit a specialist to prevent it from turning into something pathological that might affect your health.