Right in the thick of the second wave, my family and I, despite every possible precaution found ourselves swept into the raging storm of covid. One after the other, we fell sick through a period of one and a half months. I still remember that instinctive tightening in my chest and jaw as I saw the mercury touch 100 for the first time – the beast was finally in our home.
We rapidly re-organised ourselves. Individually isolated, N-95 masks became the norm in our house. The practice of hyper-vigilance entered every aspect of our life from social distancing to noting various bodily parameter every few hours. As a caregiver, I felt the constant weight of making big medical decisions. “What if I missed something, what if I got something wrong“, my mind would whisper into the thick of the often sleepless nights. Meanwhile, each morning brought news of more illness and death amongst family and friends. My cousin shared how in Lucknow instead of the usual line of flower vendors, he saw cremation wood being sold on the streets. Newspapers were full of photos of overwhelmed crematoriums, of pyres and burials everywhere from the sandy banks of rivers to open scrub land and car parks. None was left untouched by this immense unfolding heartbreaking tragedy.
Yet fast forward one month ahead and everything seems different. ‘Revenge vacation’ is trending on social media. Photos of maskless people lounging in thousands across markets and tourist destinations are everywhere. I sometimes find myself asking, “Did it all really happen?” Then I feel the deep exhaustion in my bones, see the innumerable blood reports on my phone and feel that twinge in my heart where loss and grief are still raw – it was and continues to be real. The body does not lie. India lost an estimated three lakh lives at the height of the second wave. So many millions more felt the tenuous link of life to a molecule (O2) as they battled covid in their homes and in hospitals. Even though my family’s illness fell in the category of ‘mild’, we were left clinging to the awareness of our body’s frailty, our oh-so-easy-to-snuff mortality in the wake of the illness.
As political gaslighting thrives through under-reporting, denial of facts and self-congratulatory messages on media attempting to trivialise the trauma and experience of the second wave; and, as social and economic imperatives loom urgently calling us to shift back into ‘business as usual’, ‘life as usual’ – there is strong impetus to make us forget. Unfortunately, forgetting does not equal healing.
Grief doesn’t just affect us emotionally or psychologically, it affects our entire body. Unaddressed, it can express itself through prolonged sadness, loss of focus, abuse of substances, low energy, withdrawal and other such symptoms, making daily functioning difficult. A recent research paper on the topic noted, “We predict that pandemic-related increases in pathological grief will become a worldwide public health concern”. Added to this, working through grief can be an important meaning making exercise, a path to finding wisdom in difficult times, especially for communities that have faced collective trauma and grief.
Acknowledging and giving space to our experience, pain and grief is the first step in the direction of accepting and growing from it. As artist Yumi Sakugawa summarises in one of her posts, “While the outside world rushes to move on, the experience of the pandemic has yet to fully leave my body. Parts of my body, my mind, my spirit are still trapped in the limbo of pandemic despair, pandemic depression, pandemic numbness, pandemic survival. I will not be pressured to move at the breakneck speed of capitalism that wants to forget everything. I will remind myself as often as I can to move at the pace of my own healing, and be attuned to my own slow and tender needs.”
Join us this month in our social media spaces as we sit with some of these thoughts and collectively ponder what it has meant for our bodies to have lived and survived through the second wave. As always we look forward to hearing from you. Stay safe.